CFC: Did chemical lobbyists violate the law?

by Ricahrd Holober, Market Watch

The Consumer Federation of California is calling on California regulators to investigate a chemical industry front group named Citizens for Fire Safety for possible violations of California law when it paid an expert witness who provided false testimony to legislators.

California Government Code Section 86205 states “no lobbyist or lobbying firm may deceive or attempt to deceive any elected state officer, legislative official, agency official, or state candidate with regard to any material fact pertinent to any pending or proposed legislative or administrative action.”

Last month, the Chicago Tribune reported that Citizens for Fire Safety paid Dr. David Heimbach, a University of Washington medical school professor, to travel to Sacramento in 2009 and 2011 to testify against proposed legislation modifying state furniture fire safety regulations. Dr. Heimbach twice told legislators how he held a dying seven week old infant who was horribly burned when a pillow she was lying on burst into flames after a candle ignited it. He lectured lawmakers that the pillow was not treated with toxic fire retardant chemicals. He warned that a proposed non-toxic fire safety regulation would only lead to more tragic deaths.

Dr. Heimbach recently admitted that he made up the story of the dying infant, excusing the fable as “an anecdotal story rather than anything I would say was absolutely true under oath, because I wasn’t under oath.” Dr. Heimbach acknowledged that Citizens for Fire Safety paid for his travel to Sacramento as well as paying consulting fees for his testimony.

“California law enforcement officials should not ignore this revelation of chemical industry payments to an expert witness who lied to legislators. Regulators have a duty to investigate the chemical industry’s possible violation of a law prohibiting lobbyists from deceiving lawmakers,” stated Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California.

Yesterday it was reported that the University of Washington admonished Dr. Heimbach for failing to report or to seek university approval for his paid consulting work for Citizens for Fire Safety for his California testimony and for testimony before the Alaska legislature in 2010. At the time of his paid testimony, Dr. Heimbach served as a professor of surgery at UW and as a physician at UW’s Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He has subsequently retired from both university positions.

Citizens for Fire Safety is funded by three manufacturers of brominated and chlorinated fire retardant chemicals: Albemarle, ICL Industrial Products and Chemtura. Citizens for Fire Safety has blocked the efforts of a coalition of consumer groups, firefighters, health professionals, environmental groups and concerned parents to revise a 1975 furniture flammability rule that has saturated California homes with toxic flame retardants linked to human health effects, including neurological harm and reproductive damage. Citizens for Fire Safety and related groups have spent $23 million in lobbying expenses and campaign contributions in California in the past five years – stopping five separate attempts to replace the 37 year old regulation with a modern, non-toxic fire safety rule.