The seduction of Howard Dean

The liberal firebrand succumbs to Washington's money culture

Topics: Howard Dean, War Room,

The seduction of Howard DeanHoward Dean

Howard Dean has long cultivated an image as the plainspoken doctor who speaks for the left wing of the Democratic Party, a role he still plays as a pugnacious pundit on TV. But since his term as chairman of the Democratic National Committee ended in January 2009, Dr. Dean has taken on a less-noticed role: paid advocate for interest groups that would find few fans among the progressive voters once energized by Dean’s 2004 presidential bid.

Dean may not be the worst of the “buckrakers,” those prototypical capital characters who exploit their name and connections without regard for principle. But his recent political forays seem to have diverged from his trailblazing left-liberal past.

As senior strategic advisor at McKenna Long & Aldridge, a heavyweight Washington lobbying firm, Dean played a prominent role representing the biotech industry during the healthcare bill debate, staking out a position on biopharmaceutical drugs that was decried by consumer groups.

“Gov. Dean was very helpful to us,” biotech CEO Jim Greenwood told a trade publication “As a physician clearly focused on healthcare, a Democrat leader and clearly to left of center, his efforts were impactful.” Greenwood is the head of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), a trade group that lobbies for the industry in Washington.

Dean is also currently one of the most prominent paid voices in a public-relations campaign on behalf of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an obscure and controversial Iranian militant group that is aggressively lobbying the Obama administration to remove it from the official list of terrorist organizations.

Dean arrived in the comfortable K Street offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge shortly after his term as DNC chair ended in January 2009. He had been passed over by President Obama for the secretary of health and human services Cabinet post, and he needed a paying job.

In announcing his appointment, the firm said Dean would “provide guidance to clients, particularly in the areas of healthcare and alternative energy resources.”

Dean has been careful not to register as a lobbyist, a designation that would prompt legal disclosure requirements. Both McKenna and the governor’s spokeswoman declined to reveal which clients he has worked for.



Dean took on a very public role during the 2009 healthcare reform battle, specifically going to bat for the biotech industry — whose trade association is a client of McKenna.  

At stake was how the government would regulate a growing class of drugs called biologics or biopharmaceuticals and their generic competitors. The industry argued for a longer period — at least 12 years — in which expensive brand-name biologics would face no competition from less costly generics. Consumer groups argued that, to keep costs down, the period of exclusivity should be just five years.

Dean jumped into the fight on the side of the industry, writing an Op-Ed in the Hill in 2009 arguing that a “commonsense and fair approach” would be to bar generics for “at least 12 years.”

“If we discourage investment, we jeopardize the development of the next generation of breakthrough medicines and cures,” he wrote, echoing a key industry talking point.

Liberal admirers were disappointed.

“It was devastating to have him involved because of his reputation,” says James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a public interest group that fought for a shorter period of exclusivity. “He’s considered to be independent of industry and on the left, so it was really shocking to us when we first saw this. But there it was.”

Greenwood, the trade group CEO, said at the time that Dean’s work had involved talking to members of Congress about the issue. Dean never registered as a lobbyist, a legal category that involves spending at least 20 percent of one’s time for a client lobbying lawmakers or government officials.

One common dodge on K Street is for former elected officials to work for lobbying firms without actually registering as lobbyists. At McKenna, for example, former Sen. Zell Miller, the conservative Democrat from Georgia, and former Colorado Rep. David Skaggs hold the same title as Dean: “senior strategic advisor and independent consultant.”

Dean is not exclusive in his services. He currently serves on the board of advisors at Vatera Health Partners, a New York-based venture capital fund whose mission is “to support and grow emerging biopharmaceutical companies.”

It’s not clear from the public record how long he has served in the position. But his presence on the Vatera board indicates that he has a personal financial stake in the biopharmaceutical industry.

At the time of the biologics fight on Capitol Hill — which the industry won — Dean told Time that “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t believe it.”

Dean has invoked the same argument when it comes to his work in support of the MEK, the Iranian militant group. Dean and other luminaries from across the political spectrum have been paid vast sums of money by the group — as much as $20,000 for a 10-minute speech — to appear at events pushing the Obama administration to remove the MEK from the official list of terrorist organizations. 

Dean himself has acknowledged being paid but has not disclosed specific sums.

Critics of the MEK, including the State Department, say the group displays cult-like qualities; it has been led by the same husband-and-wife couple, Masoud and Maryam Rajavi, for decades. They also point to the fact that it killed Americans in Iran in the 1970s and the lack of support for the group among the people of Iran. Among the most enthusiastic supporters of delisting MEK have been neoconservative strategists who believe the group can help destabilize the Iranian regime.

Dean, for his part, has been distinguished by his particularly aggressive advocacy for the MEK. Not only has he argued for delisting MEK in print and in speaking appearances, he has also said that Maryam Rajavi should be recognized as the president of Iran. The Christian Science Monitor reported on a recent trip by Dean to Berlin:

“Madame Rajavi does not sound like a terrorist to me; she sounds like a president,” Mr. Dean said, gesturing toward the MEK leader from the dais. “And her organization should not be listed as a terrorist organization. We should be recognizing her as the president of Iran.”

While Dean has passionately argued he is on the right side of the MEK issue, he acknowledged to the Washington Times that he got involved through his agent.

“I got asked by my agent to go over to Paris to speak to a group I knew nothing about. I spent a lot of time on the Internet learning about them, and then I met them,” he told the paper.

Dean spokeswoman Karen Finney said that, besides paid advocacy work, the former governor spends his time on a range of other activities, including appearing as a paid contributor to CNBC; traveling as a board member for the National Democratic Institute, which promotes democracy around the world; giving paid speeches; teaching a class at Hofstra University; and serving on the board of Extendicare, a Canadian long-term care company. Finney said he also continues to do some work for Democracy for America, a political action committee Dean founded that is run by his brother, Jim.

Whom else does Dean work for as a paid advocate?

In January, he waded into another high-stakes healthcare fight, this one being waged in New York state between foreign medical schools and their American competitors. The issue was whether foreign-trained doctors would have access to hospitals in New York for their residencies. Dean wrote an Op-Ed in the Albany Times-Union, “N.Y. needs its foreign-trained doctors,” that repeated talking points of foreign medical schools, which, Dean’s bio blurb noted, are clients of McKenna Long & Aldridge.

While the firm won’t say whom Dean has worked for, his bio page on McKenna’s website offers some clues.

“Respected for his fiscally moderate policies as Governor, he understands first-hand the severe budget constraints that are challenging state and municipal governments,” it reads. “With an extensive set of contacts nationally, Governor Dean is uniquely positioned to develop partnerships between industry stakeholders and local governments.”

Dean is indeed uniquely positioned: Between his former followers and his current clients, between his idealist liberal past and the cynical culture of K Street, between independence and cooptation.

UPDATE: Read Howard Dean’s response to Salon here.

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>