One of President-elect Joe Biden's closest advisors could come under pressure to retire from working on some of the new administration's key initiatives as his brother campaigns for at least two pharmaceutical companies.
Steve Ricchetti, who was named advisor to the president in Biden's later administration on Tuesday, has a brother, Jeff, who, according to disclosure reports, was hired to promote pharmaceutical companies while Biden was running for president. Ricchetti was Biden's campaign chairman and previously his chief of staff.
Biden's campaign was based in part on the idea of lowering drug prices. Some of these companies are known to have high drug costs. According to ethics experts, if Biden drives prescription price lowering policies, Ricchetti may have to pull out because his brother could take a financial advantage from the same industry that all administration is trying to regulate.
"Steve Ricchetti has the opportunity to withdraw from White House political matters that directly and materially affect his brother's finances," Paul Ryan, vice president of politics and litigation for Ethics Watchdog Common Cause, told CNBC on Tuesday. "I think it is fair to expect officials to withdraw from government decisions that could benefit their immediate family members financially."
Steve and Jeff Ricchetti co-founded their self-proclaimed lobbying shop over a decade ago. While Steve Ricchetti has not lobbyed since Biden took office, Jeff Ricchetti is still a registered lobbyist.
Jeff Ricchetti began lobbying for UK pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline in September. A month earlier he started working at Horizon Therapeutics, which is headquartered in Ireland and was once known as Horizon Pharma.
According to records, the company made at least $ 270,000 in the third quarter. That is on top of the $ 365,000 made through lobbying in the first two quarters of the year, according to the bipartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The two companies have increased drug prices in the past. Jeff Ricchetti has started campaigning on behalf of GSK on behalf of Congress on "Medicare and Medicaid drug pricing and reimbursement," according to its third-quarter filing. According to Horizon's lobbying registration form, Ricchetti will focus on issues related to Medicaid discounts and drug prices.
GSK told CNBC that Ricchetti had not been hired for his family ties, but hinted that he could be asked to report to the new Biden administration.
"Actions related to drug pricing, Medicare and Medicaid on Capitol Hill and the White House can and can have a dramatic impact on how we do business and invest in innovation for the future," Lyndsay Meyer, a company spokeswoman, told CNBC when asked whether Ricchetti wants to lobby the White House. She later noted that Ricchetti Inc. was hired to work with Congressional Democrats.
"In addition, being able to communicate the reality of legislative and administrative action gives patients a voice affected by actions that affect the way we innovate today and how we innovate in the future, treatments and remedies." pursue, "she added. Meyer noted that the company had engaged Ricchetti because of its "long history of working with centrist democrats on many health issues".
Horizon did not rule out Ricchetti advocating for in-depth administration.
"As is the norm in the industry, we are working with experts who have knowledge and involvement in US health care policy and who can help navigate the administration," Geoff Curtis, a company spokesman, told CNBC. "To this end, Horizon is working across party lines to advance research, advance patient access, and advance health policies that support innovative, breakthrough medicines."
Neurocrine Biosciences, a biopharmaceutical company, also got Ricchetti to campaign for it in the final stages of the election. The registration form states that Ricchetti will champion Neurocrine on "drug discovery and development, pricing and access, reimbursement".
Richard Painter, chief White House ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration, told CNBC that Steve Ricchetti may have to step back on drug pricing issues or tell his brother not to stand up for the White House.
"It's everyone's job to keep their brothers, sisters, and grown children out of the house, so to speak," Painter said of what Ricchetti should do when dealing with his brother's potential lobbying efforts. "I don't see anything that is a red light, but I see a yellow light in some situations," said Painter Ricchetti's possible ethical dilemma.
It's unclear whether Jeff Ricchetti plans to stand up for the White House or the agencies within the new administration, as his brother is up for a key role in Biden's White House. It is also unknown whether Steve Ricchetti will be involved in administrative political matters.
Neither the Biden transition nor the Ricchetti brothers returned a request for comment.
Jeff Ricchetti stood up for the White House and other federal agencies when Biden was vice president. When Steve Ricchetti Biden became chief of staff, Jeff Ricchetti did not advocate the vice president's office. During Biden's second term as Vice President, Jeff Ricchetti had clients such as Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.
During the campaign, Steve Ricchetti met privately with some of Wall Street's top donors to rally them around the former Vice President, CNBC first reported in January.
Progressives are upset that the former lobbyist is given an important advisory role in Biden's administration.
"Steve Ricchetti is a former pharma lobbyist and has represented groups loudly opposed to Medicare for All and the public manufacture of prescription drugs," said Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the Progressive Justice Democrats, in a statement. "In this post-Covid era, Biden has the chance to fundamentally reform our gruesome health system, but it will be necessary to stand up to private power."
Horizon Therapeutics and GSK have increased prices for certain drugs.
Reuters reported in late 2019, citing research by 3 Axis Advisors, that GSK was among several pharmaceutical companies looking to raise their prices for the new year.
GSK said at the time that it was raising prices for more than 30 drugs. According to the report, the company increased prices on respiratory treatments offered through its Ellipta inhaler, cancer drug Zejula, and products in its HIV-focused ViiV joint venture. According to reports, the price increases ranged from 1% to 5%.
GSK defended its track record of drug pricing in comments to CNBC.
"GSK has a long history of pricing drugs to reflect the value they deliver to patients and we are actively involved in developing solutions that enable patients to access new scientific breakthroughs," said Meyer, who Company spokeswoman. "We continue to demonstrate our commitment to patients and responsible pricing through our actions and our track record over time."
A year before it was renamed Horizon Therapeutics, Horizon Pharma was at the center of a 2018 CNN story about how one of the company's drugs cost nearly $ 3,000. The pain reliever known as Vimovo is still listed in Horizon's portfolio.