Dr. Vivek Murthy, who has been nominated by President Joe Biden to be the next U.S. surgeon general, made in excess of $2 million on consultations and speeches regarding COVID-19, according to reports.
The Washington Post reports that the Indian American physician was paid millions of dollars last year in coronavirus-related consulting for Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, Airbnb’s rental properties and other firms, in addition to collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from dozens of organizations, according to ethics documents that Murthy filed this month.
The disclosure caught the attention of longtime health policy hands – saying that Murthy has the most financial entanglements of any surgeon general pick in recent history – and of watchdogs who raise questions about how credible he would be as a spokesperson on the pandemic response and presidential adviser, the report adds.
Murthy, whose Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25, is expected to narrowly win confirmation to return to the role of surgeon general, six years after his first grueling confirmation battle as President Barack Obama’s nominee – and four years after President Donald Trump abruptly fired him, shortly after taking office, the report said.
Murthy’s financial disclosures could complicate his candidacy given strong conservative opposition to him on other grounds. Among those include his longtime advocacy of treating gun violence as a public health problem.
Members of the GOP have thus far stayed away from his finances and it’s unclear whether Democrats will raise the issue, despite repeatedly chastising Trump’s health nominees for their corporate ties, according to the report.
But the nominee is unlikely to be confirmed if Democrats suffer a single defection – and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who supports gun rights and voted against Murthy in 2014 citing his political activism, “has not decided how he will vote on Dr. Murthy’s nomination,” said Sam Runyon, the senator’s spokesperson, the Post added.
Murthy declined to comment on his financial disclosures, and Biden administration officials defended the nomination.
“If confirmed to serve for a second time as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy will provide the public with clear, accurate health information to keep them safe, rooted only in facts and science,” a Department of Health and Human Services official said in a statement, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a nominee in advance of his confirmation, according to the Post report.
Murthy disclosed at least $2.6 million in consulting fees and speaking engagements since January 2020, in addition to serving as an adviser to four companies that focus on health services and products, according to his ethics paperwork and two people with knowledge of Murthy’s duties who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive financial details, the report said.
Murthy was paid $400,000 by Carnival Corporation – the parent company of the cruise ship marooned off the California coast, the Grand Princess, as well as of the similarly virus-ravaged Diamond Princess.
A Carnival spokesperson confirmed that Murthy had advised the company’s coronavirus response. “We have been working with a number of world-leading public health, epidemiological and policy experts to support our ongoing efforts for developing enhanced protocols and procedures for the return of cruise based in the latest knowledge around protection and mitigation,” said Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson.
Murthy also received $410,000 in cash and 2,000 stock shares – now worth an additional $402,000 – from Airbnb as he advised the travel-rental company on virus safety protocols to navigate the pandemic. Airbnb publicized Murthy’s guidance, and his name is invoked hundreds of times across the website, including by renters eager to advertise their homes’ safety.
Meanwhile, Murthy received $292,500 to advise cosmetics giant Estée Lauder on mental health practices during the pandemic, and he was paid more than $600,000 by Netflix as he advised the company’s film and TV productions about whether it was safe to return to work.
Murthy was also paid at least $522,650 to deliver about three dozen speeches to a range of audiences, which included hospitals and health insurers, as well as firms like Google and UBS Financial Services, on a variety of topics, including a book that Murthy wrote on loneliness, according to the Post.
Murthy this month pledged to government ethics officials that if confirmed, he will “not participate personally and substantially” in matters involving his former consulting clients for one year, unless he’s authorized to do so, and also promised to follow Biden’s broader ethics pledge, which would require recusals from certain client-related matters for two years.
In addition, he said he would step down as an adviser to Behavioral Health Group and three other firms that had retained him.