With a bill pending, he backs the dietary supplement industry
Deepening his personal involvement in an industry that has business pending at the Capitol, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this year helped dietary supplement companies launch a lobbying group.
An article in the August 2005 edition of Muscle & Fitness magazine, for which Schwarzenegger serves as executive editor, recounts his attendance at a March 5 meeting at which the lobbying group formed and says the governor remains “a phone call away” from the organization.
The meeting took place while legislation was pending that would restrict high school athletes from using some performance-enhancing supplements. The bill still awaits action in the Legislature.
Schwarzenegger vetoed a supplements bill last year, saying that most are safe. But the Republican governor last year also signed on with American Media Inc. – publisher of the National Enquirer and Star supermarket tabloids – to take his position with Muscle & Fitness and Flex magazines. The body-building publications derive much of their advertising income from the supplements industry.
Among the advertisers are Nutrex Research Inc. of Winter Park, Fla., and the San Corp. of Oxnard, which produce synephrine-based weight loss stimulants that would be banned for use by high school athletes under a bill proposed by state Sen. Jackie Speier. Representatives of the two firms attended the meeting, according to Nutrex co-founder Jeff McCarrell.
Schwarzenegger’s representatives said there was nothing inappropriate about the governor’s attendance at the meeting. Although Schwarzenegger admits to having used anabolic steroids in the past, he is now strongly opposed to them while still maintaining that most dietary supplements are safe.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles and an expert on political reform, said he sees no legal problems with Schwarzenegger’s association with the supplements industry. But he said the activity raises a question of “whether it is compatible with being governor.”
“Shouldn’t he be focusing all of his energies on being governor as opposed to helping a particular industry that he has been associated with in the past?” Stern asked. “Nobody is saying he’s shirking his duties as governor, but the question is, how does it look to be promoting one industry when there is also legislation affecting that industry?”
Stern said flatly that Schwarzenegger, as governor, “shouldn’t be executive editor of a magazine that is receiving ads from people who have interests pending in Sacramento.”
The March 5 meeting was conducted during the Arnold Classic bodybuilding convention and competition in Columbus, Ohio. It was organized by David Pecker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Media, and was attended by representatives of more than 20 companies in the supplements industry.
According to the article, the coalition hired Washington lobbyist Romano Romani of Parry, Romani, DeConcini & Symms Associates, and formed a political organization called the Sports & Fitness Supplements Association.
Schwarzenegger, Pecker and other top officials from the AMI muscle magazines attended the meeting to “provide their time-tested leadership,” the article said. It added that Schwarzenegger “gave his support in ways both emblematic and tangible” to the supplements industry. It paraphrased Schwarzenegger as saying that “supplements are not only safe but beneficial when taken as directed” and that his own use of the substances was “essential to his bodybuilding progress in the 1960s and 1970s.”
“The governor also made it clear,” the article said, “that he will remain a phone call away as the coalition progresses in its efforts to keep safe, effective, nutritional supplements legal and available to the American public.”
Schwarzenegger’s spokeswoman, Margita Thompson, said the governor has no bias when it comes to his consideration of performance-enhancing dietary supplements.
As for the Muscle & Fitness article, Thompson said the authors “may have engaged in hyperbole” in characterizing the governor’s closeness to the supplements producers. Thompson said she doesn’t know if anyone in the supplements industry called Schwarzenegger as suggested in the article, “but we couldn’t comment on private conversations” anyway.
Paul Wachter, Schwarzenegger’s business manager and a gubernatorial appointee to the University of California Board of Regents, said the governor’s attendance at the meeting had “nothing to do with money or business” and everything to do with “where Arnold comes from.”
“The reason he does these things, the reason he will do things for bodybuilding magazines or bodybuilding-related stuff… is because it’s where he comes from and he cares about it,” Wachter said.
Under Schwarzenegger’s executive editor arrangement, American Media pays $250,000 a year to the governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, a nonprofit, corporation-financed organization re-established last month to promote health and fitness in the state.
In a new biography, “Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the governor suggests to author Larry Leamer that he knew his business relationship with American Media would result in more favorable treatment from the tabloids.
“Do you want to work with someone who you are attacking?” the book quotes Schwarzenegger as saying.
As for the supplements, while business manager Wachter said Schwarzenegger’s concern has no financial motivation, Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, begs to differ. “By working for the magazines, Arnold is working for the magazines’ paymasters,” Heller said of the supplement producers and their advertising dollars.
Supplement companies Nutrex and San are the leading advertisers in the muscle magazines for weight-loss products that contain the stimulant synephrine. The substance is on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “monitoring” list and has been classified as “likely hazardous” by Consumer Reports magazine.
Speier, D-Hillsborough, said she is trying in Senate Bill 37 to prohibit high school athletes from using synephrine because it is “speed-like,” and “I think over time we’re going to find out it is dangerous.”
Dr. Gary Wadler of the New York University School of Medicine, who is a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s committee on prohibited substances, said synephrine is “potentially problematic because of its abuse potential.”
Wadler said the supplement industry latched on to synephrine as a weight-loss stimulant in the wake of ephedra’s banning last year by the Food and Drug Administration.
McCarrell, the co-founder of Nutrex, which has a six-page ad display for its synephrine-based Lipo-6 fat burner in the August edition of Muscle & Fitness, said the product contains a warning label that it shouldn’t be used by anyone under 18.
But McCarrell said that his company has received no complaints related to the naturally occurring plant extract and that Nutrex remains “very pro-synephrine.”
“I’ve seen people using six caps a day with no problems,” McCarrell said.
A San representative declined to comment.
FDA spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings said that her agency regulates dietary supplements only “post-market,” and that – pending any adverse health effects – “it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to make sure” products are safe before they are sold.
The Bee’s Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or [email protected]