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Special Interests: Judy Sarasohn

Bringing Pressure to Bear on Cancer Policy

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, October 14, 2004; Page A29

The American Cancer Society, which has been bolstering its lobbying capabilities in recent years, was looking forward to some good news on the Hill. Working with other public health groups and even with some tobacco growers, some ACS folks thought Congress might actually pass the tobacco buyout bill.

Well, Congress included the $10 billion buyout for tobacco farmers in the big corporate tax bill it passed this week but did not include a provision the public health groups wanted, to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes.

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"We were extremely disappointed that Congress chose to miss an opportunity to do something important for public health," said Wendy K.D. Selig, vice president for legislative affairs at the American Cancer Society.

But the ACS isn't giving up, Selig said in an interview. Noting that she would never have believed a year ago that tobacco regulation would be an important issue in a House-Senate conference on a tax bill, Selig said, "You never know where your opportunities are going to arise. . . . We will continue to press upon whomever will listen to the imperative" to enact the legislation.

The society, which has eight in-house lobbyists, is a tax exempt nonprofit. It can do only limited lobbying and no electioneering under IRS tax rules. It formed a new advocacy group -- the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) -- last year to do that. ACS CAN has been developing voter guides and getting candidates' responses on health issues in 19 federal races, including the presidential race.

By making voters more aware about legislative health issues and putting candidates on the record, ACS folks believe they'll be able to make more headway on the Hill.

"We're trying to make people understand that cancer is a policy and political issue," said Selig, a former top aide to then-House member Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), now the CIA chief.

The group will not make endorsements, however. Said Unice Lieberman, director of communications and media advocacy: "Cancer is a bipartisan disease."

Movements on Centrist Stage

Jeff Lemieux, co-founder of Centrists.Org, a nonpartisan think tank, is leaving next week as executive director to join America's Health Insurance Plans, where he will be senior vice president and direct the insurance industry trade group's new Center for Health Policy and Research.

Kelly Buck, general manager of Centrists.Org, will be interim executive director while a permanent replacement is found.

"Over the last decade, my main passion in my career has narrowed toward one goal: universal health coverage based on competing health plans," Lemieux said in a statement.

Also at Centrists.Org, Scott Payne, an environmental scientist, will be launching the tank's Energy and Environmental Policy Project.

News From Another Matt Lauer

Matt J. Lauer, previously executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy at the State Department, has signed on with QorvisCommunications, which does PR for Saudi Arabia and other clients.

The bipartisan commission, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, was established to analyze the government's international public relations capabilities. Last year, the commission warned Congress that cultural exchanges and other similar efforts to win over Muslims were "absurdly and dangerously underfunded."

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