The Revolving Door in Public Health: FDA Version

New records shed light on cozy relationship between regulator and anti-tobacco activist organization

(Washington, DC) – Anyone interested in the mechanical workings of the federal government’s revolving door with activist groups should note information The Functional Government Initiative (FGI) has uncovered from documents obtained from the Food and Drug Administration via FOIA request.

On August 15, 2023, the anti-tobacco group Truth Initiative announced that Kathy Crosby had been named CEO. Ms. Crosby was at the time Director of the Office of Health Communication and Education at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). While in that job, she was communicating with people on staff at her new employer both before and after the announcement. It’s not her first trip through the revolving door, as Crosby did work for the Trust Initiative in a previous job before her time at CTP.

Of course, any good job hunt begins with networking, and on April 19, 2023, Ms. Crosby reached out to a contact at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (another anti-tobacco group). “I hope you’re well!” she wrote. “Can you please let me know if you’re extending an invitation to any FDA colleagues to attend the 2023 Youth Advocates of the Year celebration this year?” April 19 was the first day CTFK sent out invitations for the event, which was more than a month away.

Ms. Crosby was in luck. CTFK sent her a link to two “complimentary tickets” (typically valued at hundreds of dollars each) to the gala. And they didn’t go to waste. In a May 22 email, Ms. Crosby wrote to Truth Initiative President and CEO Robin Koval, “I didn’t see you at last week’s CTFK gala but I got to catch up with several members of your team, which was awesome. Would you have time to catch up soon? I had a great conversation with [TI Board member] Dr. [Howard] Koh several weeks ago and I’m hoping we can connect.”

As the August announcement confirms, connect they did. Several emails exchanged after the announcement suggest that Ms. Crosby already had strong relationships inside TI. In response to a congratulations message from TI Communications Vice President Sarah Shank, Ms. Crosby wrote: “Most recently a member of my team spoke very highly of you (Dave, if you’re wondering)! I’m very excited and honored to be joining you and the team at TI and am very much looking forward to getting to know you better.”

It’s all very cozy. To avoid even the appearance of partiality in such circumstances government officials must abide by ethics rules covering what they can work on, both while seeking employment outside the government and after reaching an agreement for a job with a new employer.

Peter McGinnis, spokesman for FGI, issued the following statement:

“There’s a reason taxpayers are troubled by incestuous relationships between government agencies and activist groups and public health agencies are proving to be no exception. These activist groups have business before the agencies – we know, for example that TI lobbies the FDA to increase fines on tobacco product manufacturers and sellers, while also spending millions to advocate for new product bans. It’s a coup for TI to land a CEO who knows her way around the FDA, and it’s a lucrative jump for Ms. Crosby. Unfortunately, it appears to have been arranged and negotiated on the taxpayers’ dime.”