A couple of years ago, I did a story about Rep. Ernest Istook writing a letter to the Health and Human Services Department trying to protect the sale of ephedra-based diet pills (after he received major campaign help from a company that made them).
While I was working on that story, I found another Istook letter written to the Health and Human Services Department. This one endorsed a petition to the Food and Drug Administration by the General Mills Corp. to allow the cereal maker to promote its products as good source of whole grains.
I asked Istook’s then chief-of-staff John Albaugh why Istook sent that letter, which is here:
“This statement will have to come from me,” Albaugh said in an e-mail. “I approved the signing of this letter as it seemed consistent with the Congressman’s views on dietary and nutritional issues. The letter was an attempt to bring clarity to what can be confusing assertions about the nutritional content of products.”
Ok. But what prompted the letter?
“The issue was brought to our attention by former Congressman Bill Zeliff, who works with General Mills,” Albaugh replied.
“Works with” is one way of putting it. Zeliff was a registered lobbyist for General Mills.
So, in other words, Albaugh wrote the letter because a lobbyist asked him to.
On Monday, Albaugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy in U.S. District Court here for taking meals and tickets to concerts to sporting events in exchange for helping another lobbyist get road projects for his clients.
Istook has said he was shocked and surprised by Albaugh’s actions.