Did Biden’s Top Science Adviser Engage in Insider Trading?
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY…
1763: Treaty of Paris ends French-Indian War, surrendering Canada to Britain
Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, publicly promoted the COVID-19 vaccine while holding a significant number of shares in BioNTech SE, Pfizer’s vaccine partner.
Lander, who resigned on Monday amid accusations that he’d bullied and demeaned his staff, had 90 days to sell his stocks following his Senate confirmation on May 28. He divested most of his holdings in June, but he waited until Aug. 5 to sell the remaining $500,000 to $1 million worth of BioNTech stock.
When the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) ultimately sold his shares 69 days after his confirmation, the company was at its second-highest stock price ever at $404.92 — more than $50 more than two days earlier.
In the weeks leading up to that Aug. 5 transaction, Lander promoted the Biden administration’s vaccination efforts.
- June 29
“And we need to keep up the pressure to truly defeat the pandemic by ensuring that everyone is vaccinated,” Lander wrote in an article for the Boston Globe. “You can do your part by respectfully reaching out to people you know who haven’t yet been vaccinated.”
- Aug. 4
“Coronavirus vaccines can end the current pandemic if enough people choose to protect themselves and their loved ones by getting vaccinated,” Lander wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post.
Lander did not disclose his stock holdings in either op-ed. But an OSTP spokesperson dismissed the notion that Lander had done anything wrong.
“Eric was fully legally compliant,” the spokesperson said. “The law is clear – and conversations and opinion pieces telling people they should get vaccinated during a global pandemic are not even close to an ethics concern.”
During the 90 day period following his Senate confirmation, Lander agreed he would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity until I have divested it, unless I first obtain a written waiver […] or qualify for a regulatory exemption.”
Watchdog groups view the situation as ethically dubious.
“I don’t think you have the most senior scientist in the administration during a pandemic invested in a certain vaccine maker. It looks like something he should have divested immediately,” Marsco.
Jeff Hauser, the founder of the watchdog Revolving Door Project, also weighed in on Lander’s transactions.
“From a common sense perspective, there’s a conflict of interest that raises questions needlessly,” Hauser said.
“This is probably legal in the kind of way that underscores why, just as with Congress, executive branch officials should be forced to wholly liquidate non-broadly held funds before taking office.”