What Is It About Conflict
Of Interest They Don’t Get?: Trump, Clinton, DePinho Et Al

By

Leonard Zwelling

         To my limited intelligence, this seems like a simple
concept. If, in one’s mind, there are competing interests where what is good
for one interest (more money) may not be good for the other (fulfilling a
fiduciary responsibility), the individual with the conflict (and the mind) ought to give up
one of the interests. Put another way, if one is in a position to influence the
value of one’s own holdings through the exertion of power, forego the holding
or forego the power.

         Big talk! Did I ever have to forego anything for such
reasons?

         Actually I did.

         During the period when I was Vice President for Research
Administration at MD Anderson and was responsible for signing the contracts
between MD Anderson and pharmaceutical and biotech companies, I would not own
or add any such stock to my personal portfolio and neither could Dr.
Kleinerman. It drove our brokers nuts as we had to forego many opportunities to
increase the value of that retirement nest egg, but that was the way I wanted
it. I would not allow any accusations that either my wife or I were taking
advantage of my position to seal deals with big pharma that would benefit our
bottom line.

         In 2002, I was taken to task by the Houston Chronicle for defending Dr. Mendelsohn who had a huge stake
in ImClone while 195 patients at Anderson were entered on ImClone-sponsored
clinical trials without being notified of his position with the company or his
supervisory role of their doctors. I have never had ImClone stock, but I had
defended the President as not having done anything wrong with regard to our
then policies on conflict of interest. To his credit, Dr. Mendelsohn apologized
for this misstep and convened a panel of faculty members to rewrite the
conflict of interest policy at Anderson. And we did.

         Under this new policy, Dr. DePinho has repeatedly violated
its stipulations, often with a “waiver” from his bosses in Austin (talk about
conflict of interest, check out who was on the board of United Health when he
was Executive Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs) and even went so far as to
push his stock on CNBC while being interviewed as the President of MD Anderson.
This remains in my mind a firable offense despite Dr. Shine having disagreed.
Much like the atmosphere created by the Mendelsohn misstep, the DePinho plunge
off the cliff tends to taint the moral environment from then on and I would
argue has continued to do so to the point at which prominent faculty members advocate
for the privatization of discoveries made under the auspices of the NIH or
other funding agencies for the benefit of MD Anderson. This is just wrong, even if legal.
Public money should not be converted to private wealth and federal money should
not be converted into money to be spent on a free-standing cancer center’s
business interests.

         But hey, that’s OK. The big boys and girls don’t get it
either.

         Mrs. Clinton and her husband continue to wedge money out of
foreigners for the Clinton Foundation while they play prominent roles in our
national life. This is a blatant conflict as those foreign contributions are
clearly bribes for favors. They would likely evaporate if Mrs. Clinton loses
and double if she wins. The Clinton Foundation should have disbanded as long as
one or the other of the Clintons held positions of prominence in the federal
government, but surely once she became Secretary of State. Talk about influence
peddling!

         I understand that The Donald is no better as he owes money
to some of our biggest banks and foreign rivals. Why won’t they use the debt to
put pressure on President Trump to get decisions to go their way?

         This really isn’t complicated stuff.

         A conflict is a conflict if it is really one or perceived to
be one. End them. Dr. Mendelsohn should have. DePinho, Clinton and Trump still
need to. Stop being so greedy. How much is enough?

Leonard Zwelling