Someone please help me out here. How, exactly, is this not a conflict of interest?
A powerful West Texas lawmaker has cajoled and berated state health officials for nearly three years, trying to persuade them to dedicate millions of dollars to an unproven anti-smoking product promoted by the lawmaker's longtime friend and campaign contributor.
House State Affairs Committee Chairman David Swinford, R-Dumas, is now threatening to shift more than $5 million in annual tobacco prevention funds from the Texas Department of State Health Services to the Texas Education Agency in hopes that health officials will respond to his demands.
Swinford said Rodney Burd has supported his campaigns financially because they share beliefs. But Burd's campaign contributions jumped from $100 in 2002 to $1,000 a year since Swinford began pushing the state to buy Burd's anti-smoking product.
State health officials have resisted, noting that legislative budget writers have mandated that smoking-prevention funds be spent only on programs that have been scientifically tested and proven effective.
There's no proof Burd's calculator will actually change behavior, state health experts told Swinford, and adopting it would deplete funds needed to continue a concentrated, comprehensive anti-smoking campaign that is reducing smoking rates in East Texas with its high rates of lung disease.
That response, which Swinford has equated to "stonewalling" that neglects children statewide, drew his wrath at a public hearing last year.
"If I were you, I would be putting a plan together because I'm coming after you guys," Swinford warned during a state affairs committee meeting that attracted little attention last summer. "If it's not a hell of a lot better by the time we get back here in January 2007, I promise you the first bill I'll file will be to gut your program and move it. Is that plain enough?"