Friday, March 14, 2003


The leading organization for raising funds that go towards AIDS research is the American Foundation for AIDS Research, amfAR You may be somewhat familiar with the group because its celebrity spokeswoman is Elizabeth Taylor.

AmfAR plays a pivotal role in the development of AIDS drugs, prevention programs and funding for HIV care and treatment.

I recently looked at the group’s latest IRS 990 tax reports, as posted on, just to familiarize myself again with their executive salaries. Not too surprisingly, the executive director, Jerome Radwin, long ago broke through the quarter million dollar salary glass ceiling.

But I was shocked to see that the FY2000 report contained information about a $2.2 million contribution amfAR received from Bristol Myers Squibb. My guess is that amfAR included the name of the donor by accident. Their inadvertent inclusion of such information reminds me how little mistakes can provide big clues. Usually, a nonprofit states in its IRS 990 report just the amount of large donations, but does not identify the donor.

There was no other information provided about what amfAR spent the money on. However, it might be for an opinion poll, as was previously done by the AIDS group with the drug giant’s grant. In the FY1998 report, amfAR made the following statement in their major accomplishments section.

“In order to most effectively target future outreach efforts, amfAR contracted with Louis Harris & Associates to conduct a series of public opinion polls assessing current knowledge and perceptions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Bristol Myers Squibb Company, the results of these surveys will be issues in a series of reports focusing on education, prevention, treatment, and needle exchange, among other issues,” the IRS 990 report said.

The other startling bits of information pertained to amfAR's sale of some of its shares in Big Pharma companies.

The FY1999 tax report reveals that amfAR sold three shares of Bristol Myers Squibb, sixty shares of Warner Lambert, and seventy shares of DuPont. The organization realized a profit of $9,136 on the sales. Granted, this is cdertainly not a lot of money, but it does raise strong concerns, for me, about the ethics of an AIDS research group investing in drug companies.

Then, in FY2000, amfAR dumped twenty-seven shares in Abbot Laboratories, five shares of Bristol Myers Squibb, sixty-one shares of Pfizer, and 81 shares of Merck. AmfAR recorded a loss of $229 for these transactions. I again wish to acknowledge the paltry amount involved here.

However, the larger issue of any potential conflicts of interests on amfAR’s part is a major concern to me.

I’ve placed calls to Peter Traback in amfAR’s communications office about getting their statement regarding the ethical challenges posed when an AIDS nonprofit receives so much funding from a drug company, and owned and sold stock in pharmaceuticals. He said the two people in the office who would know the answers to my questions won’t be at work until March 17. Hopefully, they will contact me and explain the group’s position on its relationships with drug companies.

Just as in the case with the AIDS Action Committee of Boston and their ownership and selling off Merck stock, and making a profit on it, there may be ethical ways for AIDS nonprofits to accept funding from drug manufacturers, or own their stock. And there are myriad reasons why taking such money may seriously compromise an AIDS group’s standing on issues, like the high cost of AIDS medicines.

There needs to be more of a community wide discussion and debate about AIDS groups that seek and accept grant money from Big Pharma.

A good place to start is with a focus on amfAR and their IRS 990 tax reports.

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