The Trump administration’s top public health official bought shares in a tobacco company one month into her leadership of the agency charged with reducing tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable disease and death and an issue she had long championed.
The stock was one of about a dozen new investments that Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the CDC, made after she took over the agency’s top job, according to documents obtained by POLITICO. Fitzgerald has since come under Congressional scrutiny for slow walking divestment from older holdings that government officials said posed potential conflicts of interest.
Buying shares of tobacco companies raises even more flags than Fitzgerald’s trading in drug and food companies because it stands in such stark contrast to CDC’s mission to persuade smokers to quit and keep children from becoming addicted. Critics say her trading behavior broke with ethical norms for public health officials and was, at best, sloppy. At worst, they say, it was legally problematic if she didn’t recuse herself from government activities that could have affected her investments.
From earlier this month:
Brenda Fitzgerald is the top public health official in the country, but she is unable to speak before Congress about much of what her agency is doing because of financial conflicts of interest still unresolved after seven months on the job.
Her recusals on key issues — including cancer detection and aspects of the opioid crisis, potentially — have hindered her ability to lead and openly address some of the most important health concerns facing the country, all because she and her husband have more than $300,000 in investments in GW Ventures and Greenway Messenger, both deemed conflicts of interest.
A former Georgia public health official, Fitzgerald was appointed in July to the CDC’s top job, which does not require Senate confirmation. It took months for Health and Human Services to sort out her complicated financial portfolio, as every political appointee has to do when taking a government job.