Blood Money

Nothing scares GOP attack-dog Dan Burton more than AIDS. But that doesn’t mean he can’t profit from it.


When critics dismiss him as a kook, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), the Republican leading the House investigation into the Democratic fundraising scandal, usually says his crusades reflect the interests of voters back home. But his extremist crusade against the spread of AIDS reflects an interest even closer to Burton — his own pocketbook.

Burton has proposed mandatory AIDS testing for every American citizen and, this year, he called for the death penalty for anyone who knowingly transmits HIV. He is reportedly so afraid of catching the disease that he refuses to order soup in a restaurant.

He also was an early investor in Ribi ImmunoChem, a Montana-based biotechnology company that makes adjuvants, which stimulate a body’s immunity. In 1987, Ribi was listed by Wall Street analysts as one of the players in the growing AIDS-related industry. That year, Burton acquired Ribi stock worth up to $5,000 (Congress members don’t have to disclose the exact amount of their stock purchases).

In 1988, Ribi announced its product might be a building block for an AIDS vaccine, and in 1993, the National Institutes of Health included Ribi adjuvants in studies on humans that attempted to find a vaccine. That year, Burton proposed a resolution for additional money to help fund further AIDS studies.

Betting on the discovery of an AIDS vaccine is a risky investment, says Jim Bellessa, a securities analyst with D.A. Davidson & Co. But if Ribi adjuvants work in the NIH vaccine studies, he says it could be “humongous for the company.”

In 1994, when the company’s revenues dropped, the value of Burton’s investment dropped below $1,000. But in March 1995, Burton acquired stock worth $5,000 in HemoCleanse, which is in the testing phase for a device that might kill the AIDS virus by heating blood. Meanwhile, Burton is a co-sponsor of a bill to fast-track Food and Drug Administration approval of medical devices that offer “breakthrough technologies.”

Burton is already under a Justice Department probe for reported influence peddling to Pakistan. But he doesn’t have to worry about his stocks: Congress members are not required to recuse themselves from legislation or subcommittees that could affect their stock holdings.

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.