Albert Dwoskin and his wife, Claire, have been heavy hitters in Democratic politics for decades, boasting fundraisers with access to top Democratic leaders—even the Clintons.
Bill Clinton has spoken at their mansion in McLean, Virginia twice.
Albert, a real estate developer, donated more than $10,000 to Ready for Hillary—Clinton’s campaign in waiting—in 2013. That’s on top of the thousands of dollars both Clintons have received from the pair since the 1990s.
But it’s Albert and Claire Dwoskin’s other hobby that is under scrutiny now. The Dwoskins fund a multimillion-dollar family foundation that has publicly tied the use of vaccines to a rise in autism, and is dedicated to addressing “gaps in the knowledge about the biological and genetic risk factors for vaccine induced brain and immune dysfunction.”
In other words, they’re vaccination skeptics. And the foundation is just one in a series of anti-vaxx projects that the wealthy couple bankrolls.
The political class’s views on vaccines suddenly leapt to the forefront of the national conversation this week, when presumptive presidential candidates Chris Christie and Rand Paul said, to varying degrees, that vaccination should be a matter of parental choice.
The problem is, when parents opt out of the vaccination regime, the rest of us can get infected. In recent days, more than 100 cases in 14 states have caught the measles—a disease all-but-eradicated years ago.
The Dwoskins, through an assistant, said they were not “anti-vaccine,” had vaccinated their children, and were just committed to researching the causes of disorders such as autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Everyone is looking for an easy way to label things; that’s not uncommon,” said Kellie Boyle, a communications professional who described herself as an “unpaid assistant” for the Dwoskins. “When things are complex, or when things are political, let’s go ahead and chalk a label—that you’re black or white and there’s not anything in between. I think they’ve been caught in that.”
Boyle added that the Dwoskins were shocked by the sudden attention to their cause.
Neither Ready for Hillary nor Hillary Clinton’s office returned a request for comment.
But even if the couple are not dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxers, the websites of their various foundations contain information that has been debunked or unsubstantiated. During a time when more and more people are becoming infected with diseases best left on the Oregon Trail, their charitable efforts look less than sane.
For example, the foundation warns against the unforeseen consequences of vaccines and links vaccine ingredients—such as aluminum—to autism.
In a September 23, 2014 post on the foundation website, author “dwoskin” wrote:
“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has a prevalence of 1 in 68 children—a 30% increase since 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ASD was once a rare disorder but is occurring more frequently than before, as more cases are being diagnosed each year. The reason for this increase may be linked to certain ingredients found in vaccines, specifically aluminum formulated vaccines.”
While the post cites the CDC statistics, it ignores the CDC’s findings that “there is no relationship between vaccines and autism rates in children. Besides [controversial vaccine ingredient] thimerosal, some people have had concerns about other vaccine ingredients in relation to autism as well. However, no links have been found between any vaccine ingredients and autism.”
But to “dwoskin,” that is neither here nor there, apparently.
The Dwoskin Family Foundation post goes on:
“Autism and ASD can be defined as a condition characterized by impaired cognitive and social skills along with compromised immune function. The fact that ASD rates have rapidly increased over the last two decades suggests that there are environmental components that lead to its prevalence. The root cause of ASD is still unknown; however, current research is suggesting that the use of vaccines are [sic] playing a role in its development.”
The Dwoskins also fund the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI), an entity that allows the couple to also fund research on the issue overseas. It, too, has claims that are, let’s say, less than true:
“Certain toxic ingredients in vaccines have not been individually tested for safety such as aluminum adjuvants, polysorbate 80 and Thimerosal,” the CMSRI website says.
Except there have been studies, according to the Food and Drug Administration. “This study is important because it provides additional scientific information confirming that the benefits of aluminum-containing vaccines administered during the first year of life outweigh any theoretical concerns about the potential effect of aluminum on infants,” the FDA website notes.
Experts, like Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Daily Beast that the amount of aluminum in vaccines is “logarithmically less” than the amount of the element that could lead to damage in healthy people.
“Generally vaccines are given to people whose kidney’s work,” he said. “So biologically the notion that the quantity of aluminum contained in vaccines could in any way mimic the toxicity in clinical situations is fanciful.”
“Anti-vaccine people…they put this stuff out all the time,” Offit added.
The Dwoskins are not only big Democratic donors (name a prominent Democrat and they probably have received money from the pair).
Albert Dwoskin was an appointee in the Clinton administration—twice—serving as the director of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation.
The pair was mentioned in a 2007 ABC story under the title “influence for sale.” The story spotlighted a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at their “posh Northern Virginia manse” and deemed it “one of the highest-dollar fundraisers since the McCain-Feingold campaign finance limits.”
“Tonight at the posh Northern Virginia manse of local real estate magnate Albert Dwoskin,” the report said. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will host one of its most expensive events in recent memory—$28,500 per couple—featuring access to [then Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and 10 powerful House committee chairmen.”
The Dwoskins’ vaccination skepticism might have gone unnoticed if a measles outbreak—which is thought to have originated from unvaccinated children—hadn’t begun to spread across the country.
Democrats in particular have spent the last several days gleefully tweaking Republican presidential contenders for their off-message remarks on the topic, after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for a “balance” on vaccinations and Senator Rand Paul indicated there might be something to the argument vaccines can harm children.
But Clinton’s belief in vaccines wasn’t always so absolute. According to the American Prospect, Clinton wrote in 2008, “I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”
In an interview with AutismOne last year, Claire Dwoskin explained that the couple’s foundation’s research is “focused on aluminum as being something that everyone is exposed to through their childhood vaccines and through other environmental factors such as in food, and in skin care products, and over-the-counter medicines, and even baby formula unfortunately has aluminum.”
“It’s a neurotoxin, it’s an immune system toxin, and that past published researchers, over 900 studies, linking aluminum to all kinds of chronic health conditions,” she said. “So we thought that was a very rich target for going after for seeing whether or not aluminum is directly linked to autism, Alzheimer’s disease and many other conditions.”
Outside of the family foundation, Claire Dwoskin also serves on the board of directors of the National Vaccine Information Center or NVIC, a group that is in favor of “informed consent” for parents considering vaccinating their children. Or, in English, an anti-vaxx group.
Claire Dwoskin also funded an anti-vaccine movie—titled The Greater Good.
It served the opposite purpose of good, according to the New York Times. “Carefully excluding critical information that might challenge its sympathies, “The Greater Good” does a disservice both to the suffering of the few and to the public health needs of the many,” the paper wrote.
Through Boyle, the assistant, Claire Dwoskin said this wasn’t “a political issue.”
“She has no problems with what Hillary said, or what Rand Paul says or what anybody says; they are not a political organization,” she said. “They simply fund research and education to try to find the causes of these chronic illnesses.”
Will Rahn contributed to this report.