The Seattle Times:
As Vivek H. Murthy advised Joe Biden on the pandemic during the 2020 presidential campaign, culminating in Murthy’s nomination as surgeon general, he also maintained a lucrative side business: coronavirus consultant to the private sector.
Murthy was paid millions of dollars last year in coronavirus-related consulting for Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, Airbnb’s rental properties and other firms, in addition to collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from dozens of organizations, according to ethics documents that Murthy filed this month.
The disclosure caught the attention of longtime health policy hands – saying that Murthy has the most financial entanglements of any surgeon general pick in recent history – and of watchdogs who raise questions about how credible he would be as a spokesperson on the pandemic response and presidential adviser.
“We didn’t have a full window into how enmeshed he was in the selling-advice process,” said Jeff Hauser, who leads the Revolving Door Project, part of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank. “There are large questions in the minds of the public about the health and safety risks that might exist in areas like the cruise industry, and we want the surgeon general to give people completely impartial advice.”
Murthy, whose Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Thursday, is expected to narrowly win confirmation to return to the role of surgeon general, six years after his first grueling confirmation battle as President Barack Obama’s nominee – and four years after President Donald Trump abruptly fired him, shortly after taking office.
Murthy’s financial disclosures could complicate his candidacy given strong conservative opposition to him on other grounds – such as his longtime advocacy of treating gun violence as a public health problem. But Republicans have thus far stayed away from his finances and it’s unclear whether Democrats will raise the issue, despite repeatedly chastising Trump’s health nominees for their corporate ties.
But Murthy is unlikely to be confirmed if Democrats suffer a single defection – and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who supports gun rights and voted against Murthy in 2014 citing his political activism, “has not decided how he will vote on Dr. Murthy’s nomination,” said Sam Runyon, the senator’s spokesperson.
Murthy declined to comment on his financial disclosures, and Biden administration officials defended the nomination.
Murthy disclosed at least $2.6 million in consulting fees and speaking engagements since January 2020, in addition to serving as an adviser to four companies that focus on health services and products, according to his ethics paperwork and two people with knowledge of Murthy’s duties who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive financial details.
Murthy was paid $400,000 by Carnival Corporation – the parent company of the cruise ship marooned off the California coast, the Grand Princess, as well as of the similarly virus-ravaged Diamond Princess. The ships became symbols of the early outbreak, with then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams repeatedly quizzed by reporters about whether cruises were safe. The industry has been essentially shuttered by regulators since March amid warnings the vessels are “petri dishes” for the virus to spread.