Biden adviser's brother lobbying for drugmaker under federal probe
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Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of an incoming adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, is now lobbying for a drugmaker that is under federal investigation for inflating its role in Operation Warp Speed.
A disclosure filing indicates that pharmaceutical company Vaxart has hired Ricchetti to lobby on "legislative and regulatory policies regarding oral vaccine development and funding."
The California-based biotech firm came under scrutiny from federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) earlier this year for allegedly hyping its involvement in Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to produce and distribute "safe and effective" vaccines by January 2021.
President-elect Joe Biden announces former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for transportation secretary during a news conference at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del.
The company announced in a June press release that its vaccine had been selected for the operation, news that propelled its stock prices from approximately $3 to $17, according to an SEC filing.
But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told The New York Times in July that the company had not been chosen to receive research funding and had only limited involvement.
Vaxart reiterated its statement from the June press release that its oral COVID-19 vaccine had been selected to participate in a non-human primate (NHP) challenge study organized by Operation Warp Speed. The company said any claims that it had deliberately inflated its involvement in the program were false.
An October 14 SEC filing shows that Vaxart was served with a grand jury subpoena from the U.S. District Court from the Northern District of California.
Fox News has reached out to Vaxart with a request for comment.
The company is now a client of Ricchetti Inc.’s Jeff Ricchetti, whose brother Steve Ricchetti, was named last month as incoming White House senior counselor to President-elect Biden.
Steve Ricchetti once co-owned Ricchetti, Inc. with his brother but has not been a lobbyist for 10 years. He has since worked as Biden’s chief of staff and his campaign chairman.
The brothers’ firm has worked with other pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lily, Novartis, and Pfizer.
Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at ethics watchdog Common Cause, told CNBC last month that if the Biden administration moves ahead with its plan to lower drug prices, Steve Ricchetti may have to recuse himself because his brother could reap financial benefits.
"The option for Steve Ricchetti is to recuse from involvement in White House policy matters that directly and substantially impact the finances of his brother," Ryan said. "I think it’s fair to expect public officials to recuse themselves from government decision-making that could financially benefit their immediate family members."
President-elect Biden has largely ignored pleas from progressive democrats to not fill his administration with former lobbyists.
Last week, more than 50 liberal advocacy organizations and more than a dozen liberal House members signed a letter urging Biden to bar anyone with ties to the corporate world from serving in his administration.
"We urge you to decline to nominate or hire corporate executives, lobbyists, and prominent corporate consultants to serve in high office," the letter demanded. It said that such people are incapable of "working in the service of the general welfare."
Fox News’ Morgan Philips contributed to this report.
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