When the airline industry has a disaster, it goes under review by the National Transportation Safety Board. When corporations dump a toxic brew of chemicals into ground surface waters, they are supposed to answer to the EPA. When drug companies’ products – drugs and vaccines – cause more health problems than they prevent or cure, they are supposed to be subject to recall by the FDA.
When regulatory agencies become dominated by the corporations they are supposed to control, that agency has been captured by the industry. The public interest becomes a lower priority than the bidding of the will of the industry, and the industry flourishes – most of the time at the cost of human health.
Examples exist from agencies tasked with regulating finances, the airline industry, the chemical industry, the petroleum industry, the defense industry, and, of course, the pharmaceutical industry. Those who understand the specific details of regulatory capture eventually develop the position that a captured agency is worse than no agency at all, because via their influence, corporations can begin to wield the administrative power of the executive branch of government, which is more efficient and less expensive than buying political influence.
Both of the major political parties in the US are guilty of allowing the foxes to run the henhouse; wholescale change in policy at the EPA occurs every time the White House changes hands. Trump’s two EPA Chiefs, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler were stellar examples. Pruitt was a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry (which produces thousands of chemicals), and Wheeler, well, just click the link on his name.
The combined effect of Pruitt’s and Wheeler’s rollbacks on EPA policy enforcement and moves to allow polluting industries to regulate themselves were black and white examples of changes in policy against the evidence provided by Science.
A further consequence of this has been what I call the politicization of fact, examples of which we have seen with environmental toxins, safe food, and vaccine safety. This requires the willful dismissal of the importance of the search for truth, which comes with an abject disregard for rational inquiry, empiricism and the balanced view of Science, and is intolerable to any card-carrying Scientist.
Examples of specific mechanisms (and symptoms) of regulatory capture include:
The Blind Eye – Failure to investigate or levy penalties for violations.
Golden Parachute – High-paid jobs for regulators following success in weakening regulatory power while in office. Examples include former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb, and former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, both of whom are high-paid executives (Gottlieb, Pfizer; Gerberding, Merck). Gottlieb has continued to appear on national mainstream news outlets during COVID-19, wielding carry-over authority via the title “Former FDA Commissioner.”
The Revolving Door – Placing former corporate leaders in positions of regulatory authority, often Directorships (Biden’s current nominee for FDA Chief, Robert Califf, was, according to Wikipedia, “a paid consultant for Merck Sharp & Dohme, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, and Eli Lilly per ProPublica from 2009 to 2013). The largest consulting payment was $87,500 by Johnson & Johnson in 2012, and ‘most of funds for travel or consulting under $5,000,’ which has been called ‘minimal for a physician of his stature.’ From 2013-2014 he was paid a total of $52,796, the highest amount was $6,450 from Merck Sharp & Dohme, followed by Amgen, F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi Sankyo, Sanofi-Aventis, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca. He was the Director of Portola Pharmaceuticals, Inc. from July 2012 to January 26, 2015. An advisor of Proventys, Inc., Chairman of the medical advisory board of Regado Biosciences, Inc. and has been a member of the medical advisory board since June 2, 2009, and a member of the clinical advisory board of Corgentech Inc. Forbes wrote that his close ties to the drug industry were the reason for him not being nominated for the FDA Commissioner position in 2009.”
Facilitation of Opportunity – An example from oil and gas drilling occurred when the US Minerals Management Service (MMS) agency, which supervised offshore oil drilling, facilitated new projects for the private sector and mismanaged penalties for the BP Oil Spill (DOL Report on the Wayback Machine; the original link is a 404).
Rent-Seeking – When individual companies try to get a larger slice of a market’s total wealth without creating any additional wealth for that market. Pfizer recently met with the Biden administration directly, avoiding having to go through FDA’s regulatory process on COVID-19 vaccine boosters, a move that led to the resignation of two top FDA officials, who are now writing op-eds.
Ignoring Science – Cherry-picking studies that support a policy position, but ignoring sometimes thousands of studies that fail to support a favored policy. The most recent example is the dismissal of the evidence in support of early use of Ivermectin, for which over 1,400 studies show benefit.
Controlling the Narrative – Given their national standing, agency leadership often have the ability to misdirect the public’s focus from an issue of real concern to one that is either of not real concern, or to an issue that is so politicized that no progress in meaningful discourse can be achieved. A good example of this is the substitution of concern over chemicals to climate change. By far, most of the toxic chemicals of concern in our air, food and water are by-products of the petroleum industry – yet they receive little attention by the press compared to “climate change”. Another example is the substitution of the issue of vaccine safety to efficacy; the justification of the risk based on the perceived benefits thwarts inquiries into why vaccines have not been made safer after decades of accumulated evidence of their risk of harm.
Self-Regulation (turning regulatory responsibility over to industry) – One example is the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) allowing self-certification by airlines, NYTimes); another is that CDC and FDA used and considered non-peer-reviewed press releases from vaccine makers like Moderna and Pfizer on the safety & efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccine products. Early releases by both Moderna and Pfizer failed to carry the required “Forward-Looking Statements,” and yet SEC has not investigated, also providing an example of failure to investigate.
Agency Weakening – By reducing its budget, demoralizing people in key positions and failing to fill positions vacated by retirement and resignations, industry agents can reduce the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies they operate.
Federal “Non-Profits” and Funded Applications – The CDC Foundation receives over $25M per year from vaccine makers, and the FDA receives most of their funding from application fees for drug reviews.
Regulatory capture can occur at the State level as well; for example, the fracking industry in Pennsylvania (see POA’s “Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania“).