Before Danny Diaz was brought on to manage Jeb Bush’s presidential bid, he waged a different state-by-state campaign: helping the pharmaceutical industry keep cough medicine used in homegrown meth labs available to customers through over-the-counter purchases.
FP1 Strategies, a company co-founded by Diaz, has been touted in the media as an A-list campaign consulting firm retained to elect an array of GOP politicians. But Diaz and his firm have also been involved in a range of behind-the-scenes lobbying battles on behalf of business interests. Records show, for instance, that his firm has been engaged to defend genetically modified foods and to wage a public relations war against farmworkers and other low-income workers agitating for better wages.
The homegrown meth fight, in which Diaz’s drug company clients won repeated legislative battles over a three year period, is a case in point.
In 2011, legislators in West Virginia, one of the states hardest hit by methamphetamine addiction, set out to return decongestant pseudoephedrine (PSE) cold medicines to prescription-only status. Those include Claritin-D, Allegra-D and Zyrtec-D. It was a position favored by public health advocates, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and local law enforcement agencies.
In recent years, the spread of makeshift meth labs has been fueled by the “shake-and-bake” or “one-pot” method, which allows even unskilled meth cooks to produce high-quality drugs using pseudoephedrine, lithium, water, Coleman fuel, and ammonium nitrate. Rather than requiring a Walter White-style lab, shake-and-bake cooking can take place in an area as small as a gas station restroom, and on a shoestring budget.
Advocates for the bill pointed to the record of success in the two states that had passed the prescription-only requirement for pseudoephedrine drugs — Oregon and Mississippi — where meth labs declined rapidly as a result, according to a study from the Government Accounting Office. They also pointed out that, contrary to the claims of critics, customers could still make over-the-counter purchases of effective allergy and cold medicines that do not contain easily abused pseudophedrine.
West Virginia lawmakers passed the pseudophedrine prescription bill out of the state House, 77-23. But then came an unprecedented lobbying campaign, with hundreds of phone calls and social media messages in opposition to the bill, along with campaign contributions and paid advertisements from the big drug companies. In the Senate, two legislators flipped their votes at the very last moment, dooming the legislation.
Touting their achievement on the firm’s website, FP1 Strategies quotes the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy as saying, “Pharmaceutical lobbyists won the public-relations battle, convincing many that the prescription-only requirement would not work …”
FP1 Strategies omitted the conclusion of that sentence: “… even though the evidence from Oregon and Mississippi points the other way.”
Diaz’s firm, hired by a pharmaceutical-company trade group called the Consumer Health Products Association, orchestrated hundreds of third-party groups with the help of an automated robocall company to pressure legislators against PSE prescription legislation across the country, as well as targeted op-eds, town hall meetings, contacts with elected officials, and the use of social media networks.
The Consumer Health Products Association represents Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Bayer, companies that dominate the more than $600 million pseudoephedrine industry. They paid FP1 Strategies handsomely for beating back the West Virginia bill, along with similar bills in Tennessee and more than a dozen other states. Annual tax filings show FP1 Strategies reaped $7,767,735 from the drugmakers from 2011 through 2013.
On the campaign trail, Jeb Bush has called meth and other drug addiction issues a “tragedy.” Diaz and the Bush campaign did not return a request for comment about FP1 Strategies’ past clients nor Bush’s position on whether pseudoephedrine drugs should require a prescription.
Diaz was promoted by Bush to serve as campaign manager in a staff shakeup in June. Bush campaign filings revealed that FP1 Strategies was paid $350,222 for consulting work during the first six months of 2015. Since February, Jon Downs, another FP1 Strategies co-founder, has advised Bush on media strategy.
FP1 Strategies does not typically register as a conventional lobbying firm, preferring to play a background role in shaping public policy through third-party groups and other surrogates. And as such, FP1 Strategies is not required to reveal information about its clients.
Yet some disclosures occur. Press releases from Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration reform group backed by Michael Bloomberg and chief executives of several major firms, including Disney, Marriott, Boeing, and News Corporation, list staff from FP1 Strategies as the point of contact. FP1 Strategies also produced pro-immigration reform commercials for an affiliate of FWD.us, a Silicon Valley-backed advocacy group.
Professor Kevin Folta of the University of Florida, one of several scientists who received undisclosed grants from agribusiness giant Monsanto, corresponded regularly with Diaz and FP1 Strategies’ Richard Cullen, a former Politico reporter, about efforts to defend genetically modified food technology in 2014. Folta contributed to a Monsanto-backed website called GMO Answers using language taken from statements provided to him from Monsanto’s public relations team almost verbatim.
The conference calls between Folta and food industry consultants, organized with the support of FP1 Strategies, were made public through an open-records request by U.S. Right to Know, an advocacy group that counts organic food firms as supporters. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that has fought to block efforts to label GMO foods, paid FP1 Strategies $982,704 for “GMO Strategic Planning” in 2014.
FP1 Strategies prides itself on finding the right third-party voices to assist client campaigns, boasting of its ability to offer “traditional grassroots lobbying services” using “third-party organizations that can help build the intellectual and political support you need.”
Legend also has it that FP1 sometimes gets sneaky. One such story involves Ryan Williams, the agency’s senior vice president for communications. Williams was acting as a spokesperson for a group critical of non-union worker mobilization efforts known as worker centers when he was spotted in November 2013 with a man who unfurled a Soviet flag next to a small demonstration organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. CIW has organized farmworkers and other workers along the fast food supply chain to demand better workplace conditions, winning special agreement to boost pay for tomato-pickers.
The CIW members, who all knew each other, were dumbfounded by the presence of the unknown man with the Soviet flag — who kept waving it next to them as Williams snapped pictures. An organizer at the event asked the flag-bearing man to stop and to “respect the work many of us had done to organize the protest by not detracting from our specific message.” He refused, and then was spotted walking around the block with Williams. CIW leaders quickly called attention to the incident, posting pictures of Williams and the Soviet flag man together.