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Watchdog: Accountability

Liberal groups refuse to talk about links to funder with tainted history of illegal human experiments

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Politics,Watchdog,Richard Pollock,Barack Obama,Center for American Progress,Campaign Finance,Accountability,John Podesta

A code of silence is apparently in force among Democratic and liberal activists groups funded by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, whose former company conducted illegal human experiments where three elderly patients died.

None of the 10 organizations contacted by the Washington Examiner would discuss any aspect of their relationship with Wyss.

Between them, the 10 groups have received more than $44 million since 2008 from the HJW Foundation, the billionaire's private foundation.

The 10 are among 27 such groups that Wyss has given more than $110 million in recent years, according to the foundation's IRS 990 tax returns accessed through the Examiner's Citizen Audit database.

The Examiner reported July 23 that John Podesta received $87,000 as a paid consultant to a Wyss-controlled foundation before joining President Obama's inner circle of White House advisers.

Podesta has also benefited from the more than $4 million Wyss has given to the Center for American Progress since 2008.

Podesta was the founding president of CAP and remains as chairman of its board of directors, which also includes Wyss, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright; former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D; and former Obama White House energy czar Carol Browner.

Wyss enjoys a reputation as a nonpolitical philanthropist. But his pattern of giving reveals a preference for tough-elbow partisanship with activist groups and with veteran Democratic Party operatives.

The loyalty appears to be reciprocated, as liberal groups continue to remain silent about their acceptance of millions of dollars in donations from the reclusive Swiss billionaire even as CEO Wyss conducted abhorrent human experiments.

The charge made by federal prosecutors that Wyss' reckless actions were in the pursuit of raw profits have not moved any of the groups to criticize the former CEO.

U.S. Attorney Michael Levy raised the "profits before people" argument in 2009 when the indictment was unsealed bluntly concluding, “They put their profits ahead of responsible business practices and the truth.”

Federal prosecutors in 2009 indicted Sythes Inc. and four of its top executives for flouting FDA regulations while conducting illegal human clinical trials of a compound to be used in treating spinal vertebrae conditions.

Four Synthes executives went to jail, each for varying terms of less than one year, in a plea agreement that included fines paid by the company in excess of $23 million.

Wyss' company admitted it had feloniously conspired “to defraud the United States” in an effort “to impair and impede the lawful functions of the Food and Drug Administration.”

The lethal human trials were conducted despite prior Synthes-sponsored animal experiments in which pigs died. Three elderly Americans died on the operating table during the illegal human experiments.

Arthur Caplan, head of the medical ethics division at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, said moving to human trials after failures in animal tests was “inexcusable.

“There’s never any possible reason to move from dismal failure in animals and proceed onto humans,” Caplan said, adding that it was "inexcusable, just corrupt and wrong.”

Wyss was not indicted but was referred to throughout the federal indictment as “Person No. 7” who directed the company to ignore FDA rules and conduct the illegal human experiments.

Wyss, who was CEO and majority stockholder at the time of the indictment, sold Synthes to Johnson & Johnson in 2012 for $21.3 billion.

Wyss was praised in December 2013 by Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates, who said “Mr. Wyss’ philanthropy aims to foster new ideas, new tools, and new collaborations.”

Harvard University named an institute for Wyss after he gave the school two grants (one in 2009, the other in 2013) totaling $250 million.

But Wyss' generosity to Democratic activists and nonprofits reveal him to be a deeply partisan power player.

In 2012, for example, he gave a $1.56 million grant to “Know Your Care,” an obscure pro-Obamacare nonprofit that was run by neither health care reformers nor medical specialists.

The Know Your Care website lists no telephone number or mailing address, but the group's tax return said it is run by New Partners, a Democratic political consulting firm.

Among those formally affiliated with New Partners is Robert Gibbs, Obama's White House spokesman during much of his first term.

The three-member board is filled with longtime Democratic operatives. Andrew Grossman, KYC's president, led the Democratic National Committee's platform committee in 2012.

Sheila O'Connell, a KYC board member, was Maryland state director for Obama for America. Eric Smith ran special events for the in 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions and was senior advertising and messaging officer for the Obama-Biden campaign.

Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, said the Wyss-sponsored group is filled with “deception.” Allison is a veteran investigative reporter formerly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The fact that it’s run out of a Democratic consulting firm, it’s almost like a way of doing lobbying with a tax-exempt status. That’s what it looks like to me,” Allison said.

Gibbs did not respond to an Examiner request for comment.

Wyss also reached into the Clinton administration to recruit Molly McUsic as his private foundation's president.

McUsic was a top aide to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and was reportedly most responsible for the Clinton administration's controversial use of the Antiquities Act to designate western lands as national monuments. She was also a member of the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008.

Dave Skinner, a researcher with the Hydra Project, which investigates dark money groups seeking to influence elections and public policy, said Wyss appears to prefer giving unregulated money to nonprofits over campaign contributions to candidates, which are capped at $4,600 per person.

“So what he’s done is, he’s gone into the 501(c)(3) sector, which is basically unregulated, undisclosed ‘dark money,’ where he can make a much larger impact," Skinner said.

The groups the Examiner contacted for this article and the amounts they received from Wyss include the ACLU Foundation ($4.17 million), Center for American Progress ($4.1 million), Amnesty International ($100,000), Center for Responsible Lending ($4.55 million), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ($2.6 million), Constitutional Accountability Center ($1.7 million), Defenders of Wildlife ($100,000), Know Your Care ($1.56 million), the Nature Conservancy ($12.5 million) and the Trust for Public Land ($12.5 million).

National Journalism Center intern Monica Perez contributed to this report.

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