January 4, 2005
AIDS Action Council Has A Serious Case Of Laryngitis As The National "Voice" On AIDS
In the midst of the holiday season, a storm has been brewing over the AIDS Action Council and a Republican-sponsored event to celebrate "the Presidential Inauguration and Republican electoral success" on January 20, 2005.
Invitations for the event, Salute to a Second Term, went out in December, identifying the host committee as:
- Abner Mason, Executive Director of the AIDS Responsibility Project, or ARP (see the Washington Blade article at www.washblade.com/2004/5-28/news/national/pacha.cfm for background on Mason and www.aidsresponsibility.org for further information on ARP)
- Marsha Martin, Executive Director of AIDS Action Council (www.aidsaction.org)
- Rich Tafel, former ED of the Log Cabin Republicans
- Bob Kabel, chair of the DC Republican Party
- Margaret Parker, former finance chair of the Republican National Committee
- Kevin Ivers, former director of public affairs for the Log Cabin Republicans
- gay Republican activist Bryan Pruitt
The dinner event at the Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC will honor: Carol Thompson, Director, White House Office of National AIDS Policy; Dr. Joe O'Neill, Deputy Global AIDS Coordinator; Dr. William Steiger, Special Assistant to the Secretary for International Affairs, HHS; and Adolfo Franco, Assistant Administrator for Latin America, USAID.
AIDS advocates and activists from around the country were outraged that AIDS Action Council -- and specifically Marsha Martin -- would knowingly co-host a partisan event in which the proceeds would benefit the AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), a pro-Republican anti-generics organization that counts as "partners" Pfizer and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (aka PhRMA, one of the largest and most influential lobbying organizations in Washington).
While receiving funding from U.S. pharmaceutical companies that supply brand name AIDS drugs, ARP's Abner Mason has been an outspoken opponent of the use of foreign made, generic HIV drugs for the president's global AIDS relief program, which calls for providing millions of dollars in AIDS drugs to poor nations in Africa and in the Caribbean.
By December 29, AIDS Action had backpedaled their way out of the event's host committee.
AIDS Action Council Board Chair Craig Thompson and AIDS Action Foundation Board Chair Charles Henry circulated a "Dear Colleague" mea culpa letter to the community which stated that AIDS Action was withdrawing it participation from the event because "the e-mail invitation to the event did not maintain a spirit of non-partisanship under which AIDS Action had agreed to participate."
The letter doesn't address AIDS Action's ties to ARP, which supports pharmaceutical industry attacks on effective low-cost generic drugs to fight AIDS. And AIDS Action has never formally addressed this association, other than to maintain that their advocacy approach "best serves the needs of those communities and individuals impacted by HIV/AIDS at this time." Unfortunately, their silence on the ARP support issue is deafening.
In hindsight, the co-hosting of an inauguration event to financially benefit the unabashedly partisan AIDS Responsibility Project is unsurprising. The relationship between AIDS Action Council and ARP actually goes back to 2003-the year ARP was founded (following George W. Bush's State of the Union address that promised billions of dollars to address the global AIDS epidemic).
In an August 8, 2003 press release AIDS Action Council proudly announced, "AIDS Action Joins AIDS Responsibility Project's Official Trip to Africa." (See www.aidsaction.org/communications/press-releases/080803.htm). Martin participated in the trip with ARC at the same time that Abner Mason was using the influence of his Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) position to lobby to the Bush Administration on behalf of pharmaceutical companies that are the primary financial supporters of the AIDS Responsibility Project.
If our "national voice" is so willing to "salute" and "celebrate" the Bush Administration, radical right-wingers in Congress and partisan AIDS hucksters, how can it address the life or death needs of people living with AIDS and not compromise everything our community has fought for over the years?
We understand the need to maintain dialogue on domestic and global AIDS issues with the Bush Administration, but we don't think that requires appeasement. We need to take action.