The Radical Insider 

As a congressman, Ron Dellums could be counted on to advance a progressive agenda. But his voting record only told part of the story.

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There are several reasons why the idea of Dellums teaming up with Bristol-Myers is a hard pill for his idealistic supporters to swallow. As a congressman, Dellums railed against Big Pharma. As he put it in one of his early district newsletters, "There is no reason for drug manufacturers to earn billions because their products, which cost only a few cents, sell for dollars." Bristol-Myers is the nation's third-largest drug maker; in 1999, it had a reported $14 billion in drug sales from more than a hundred countries. Then there's the fact that Bristol-Myers was one of many multinational corporations that kept doing business in apartheid South Africa even as Dellums was fighting for US disinvestment there.

It was precisely this history of fighting apartheid -- and Dellums' correspondingly heroic stature among black South Africans -- that made him so appealing to Bristol-Myers. Halterman says Dellums accepted the company's offer as a chance to do more good for Africans, particularly those with AIDS. "So he calls me up and says, 'You know we always talked about having a firm. Well, I have a client.' We didn't have a firm, but all of a sudden we have a client."

The two enlisted their old colleague Robert Brauer to complete their new consulting troika, which they legally established in February 1999 with Bristol-Myers as their first client.

Around the time Dellums came on board, Bristol-Myers executives were thinking about starting a program addressing the AIDS crisis in Africa. It also was around this time that Dellums began earnestly describing his AIDS Marshall Plan for Africa, touting the idea to government officials and the media without publicly identifying himself as a Bristol-Myers consultant. His idea was to create a public-private partnership to establish an AIDS trust fund. He hoped that pharmaceutical companies would kick in $100 million.

In May 1999, Bristol-Myers launched "Secure the Future," a plan to spend $100 million over five years in five countries in Southern Africa. Secure the Future was controversial from the very start. No sooner than Bristol-Myers announced the initiative -- to which it has since committed another $15 million -- critics were calling it "Secure the Profits," dismissing it as public relations masquerading as humanitarian aid.

Secure the Future certainly has succeeded in that regard. In September 1999 the Constituency for Africa, a Washington-based nonprofit that Dellums chairs, honored Bristol-Myers vice-chairman Kenneth Weg as its "Constituent of the Year." In a press release from the organizations, Dellums gushed, "Secure the Future is the single greatest example of corporate leadership in the global fight against AIDS." The release neglected to mention that Dellums was on Bristol-Myers' payroll.

Some skeptics also frowned at the thought that Bristol-Myers would be using Africans as human guinea pigs to test AIDS-drug cocktails in studies funded by the program. Even South African health officials, who ostensibly stood to benefit from increased resources, expressed doubts about the initiative. That's where Dellums would come in. Bristol-Myers sales executive James Sapirstein told The Washington Post, "Ron was there to help broker meetings, basically call on his friends and say, 'Look, I know you don't trust these guys, but they're trying to do something important. Listen to them.' "

Three years into Secure the Future, critics say the initiative has done little to help AIDS-afflicted people in Africa. "More often than not, these things are more of an effort to try to deflect some of the negative public attention they've received about their drug pricing than about anything that's really meaningful in the sense of getting these drugs to the people that need them most in poor countries," said Rachel Cohen, the US advocacy liaison for Doctors Without Borders.

But can Secure the Future really be dismissed so easily? According to its Web site (www.securethefuture.com), Bristol-Myers committed $46 million in grants to a wide range of AIDS-related programs in Africa during the first two years of the initiative. Among the programs funded are preventative educational outreach programs, an HIV clinical research laboratory in Botswana, and the development of a curriculum for nursing schools on how to care for and manage HIV patients.

"One of the things I'm trying to help come out of Secure the Future is ... an honest partnership with African countries," Dellums said while in Sacramento. "In that public-private partnership, my hope was that programs like Secure the Future would create the models that the global trust fund would be able to expand."

Halterman acknowledges that some of his progressive pals have given him and his business partner flak for consulting for Bristol-Myers. "There were some people who said 'What's that about? Why are you in bed with this guy we're protesting against?' And then you talk to them and they get it.

"And look what's happened, look behind that. Al Gore gets the US Chair of the UN Security Council to hold a hearing on the international security implications of HIV/AIDS. Well, who did that? Ron Dellums did that. Bristol-Myers has suspended part of its patent rights in South Africa. Who did that? We did that. We worked with our client, partnering them with South Africa. This whole thing is about effecting change."

Bristol-Myers isn't the only controversial client for whom Dellums, Brauer, Halterman has been effecting change. Earlier this year, members of the Berkeley City Council received an introductory letter from the newest consultant for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Although she had never heard of the firm Dellums, Brauer, Halterman & Associates before, Mayor Shirley Dean certainly recognized the names on the letterhead. At the time, residents in the Panoramic Hill neighborhood were once again fretting over radioactive waste from the lab's Tritium Labeling Facility. So Dean scheduled a sit-down meeting with Halterman. But Dean said she and Halterman didn't talk much about the tritium facility during their meeting.

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