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Special Interests: Judy Sarasohn

Accessibility Battle Flares

By Judy Sarasohn
Thursday, September 2, 2004; Page A21

A lobbying battle over the accessibility of federally funded medical research to the public and other researchers gathered steam over the summer recess and threatened to break out in full force when Congress returns to town.

To the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and its founder, the Open Access Working Group, "it's about how science can be exchanged freely," says Debra Lappin, one of the lobbyists working the issue.

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To the Association of American Publishers and other publishing organizations, the issue is "one of primarily fairness," says Allan R. Adler, AAP's vice president for legal and governmental affairs.

So far, the open access folks seem to be winning, even though they promote themselves as David vs. a publishing Goliath. The National Institutes of Health is developing policy guidance that would require that final peer-reviewed manuscripts of NIH published research be placed in PubMed Central, the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine, within six months after publication in a scientific journal. Language promoting this direction is included in a report accompanying a House Appropriations Committee bill.

Lappin and other open access supporters say it's only right that taxpayers be able to read research articles that their dollars help fund without paying $20 to $30 to read an individual article or the pricey subscriptions to the scientific journals.

The Open Access Working Group includes Public Library of Science, the American Library Association and the Scholarly Publications and Academic Resources Coalition, among others. The alliance has 38 members, also including the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the Genetic Alliance, the Spina Bifida Association of America and the Arthritis Foundation.

Open Access is the paying client of the B&D Sagamore lobby shop. Lappin, former chairwoman of the Arthritis Foundation, is a senior adviser to Sagamore. Also on the Sagamore team are managing director David Zook, who knew Lappin from the Arthritis Foundation, and Adam Chrisney. The group is getting public relations help from Witeck-Combs.

The Association of American Publishers was blindsided on the issue, Adler said, and was not informed by the Appropriations Committee that it was headed for inclusion in the committee report, nor by NIH in a timely manner that it was also moving forward.

AAP is gathering up its supporters, as well, and is not ceding all of the patient advocacy groups.

AAP chief executive Patricia S. Schroeder, former Democratic House member from Colorado, recently wrote Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. She said the House report language "would threaten the continued survival of many scientific, scholarly and medical publications and professional societies. The House has held no hearings and has established no evidentiary record."

Stay tuned.

Burson-Marsteller Chief to Run 527

Ken Rietz has taken a leave of absence from Burson-Marsteller, where he is chief operating officer, worldwide, to run the November Fund, the new "527" organization established to attack trial lawyers -- including one trial lawyer in particular, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) -- in critical swing states for the presidential campaign.

The controversial 527 organizations, named for the section of the tax code that governs them, are nonprofits that may raise and spend unlimited amounts of unregulated money from individuals, businesses and unions to run issue ads in federal elections. Federal law bars the groups from coordinating their activities with individual political campaigns.

The November Fund was established by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups to raise the visibility of efforts to limit what they consider to be lawsuit abuse. The chamber has contributed $500,000 -- so far -- to the November Fund. Rietz said the group's goal is to raise $10 million for the political ads.

"When voters go to the polls, they need to know lawsuit abuse destroys jobs, drives doctors out of business and companies into bankruptcy," Chamber chief executive Thomas Donohue said in a statement announcing the new 527.

The November Fund is being chaired by Bill Brock, a former Republican senator from Tennessee and former Republican National Committee chairman, and Craig Fuller, chief executive of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, former chief of staff to George H. W. Bush when he was vice president.

Rietz said he took a leave of absence because Burson has a policy against getting involved in political campaigns -- he'll return after the elections in November.

He said, however, that the issue of putting the brakes on a runaway legal system "is important to our clients."

For the Record

Beth Solomon has left Hollywood for the National Association of Manufacturers, where she is associate director for media relations. A former speechwriter for then-Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), Solomon had co-founded Planet Vox, a D.C. media shop, before leaving for the West Coast. She most recently worked at Endeavor, a talent agency.

Jesse R. Benton moves up from federal affairs associate to press secretary at Americans for Tax Reform. Earlier, he was a legislative analyst for the National Club Association.

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