By John Riley and Stephanie Saul

Newday 29 July 2000

Rep. Rick Lazio sought $2.5 million in funding early this year for an eccentric scientific group espousing the view that the HIV virus doesn't cause AIDS, according to congressional correspondence that surfaced Friday.

Republican Senate candidate Lazio had previously said letters he wrote to federal agencies in 1998 and 1999 seeking a meeting for the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of HIV/AIDS were routine constituent service, designed to let the group discuss alternative AIDS treatments.

However, in a March 30, 2000, letter to Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, Lazio asked for $2.5 million for the group to "study the ineffectiveness and inefficiency" of federal AIDS spending. "Specifically, their study will focus on studying the underlying causes of AIDS and the effectiveness of nontoxic and holistic approaches to treatment," Lazio wrote. The funding was not approved.

The group laid out its beliefs in a July 18, 1998, letter to Lazio obtained by Newsday, at the same time he was seeking meetings for them with federal agencies.

The group complained to Lazio that the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control were obstructing AIDS research because they were "military organizations" and that federal health agencies were harassing scientific dissidents and concealing studies that "refute the prevailing dogma that AIDS is a contagious disease" caused by HIV.

Lazio's campaign confirmed the correspondence but said that Lazio has never questioned the prevailing view that HIV causes AIDS and that he acted at the behest of the New York Health Coalition, a group the campaign said includes Long Island AIDS sufferers seeking alternative therapies.

"Rick Lazio has and will continue to have a strong record as a supporter of traditional research," said campaign spokesman Bryan Flood. " His constituents made a request for assistance, and as a member of Congress who believes in strong constituent service, he forwarded that request for funding." Lazio's campaign also pointed out that in 1994 three New York Democrats in the House co-sponsored a bill calling for a broad-based federal study of the causes of AIDS, including the theory "that HIV does not necessarily play a causative role." Democrats and AIDS advocacy groups, however, expressed concern that Lazio was supporting bogus science that could detract from public health solutions to the AIDS epidemic.

"It's like supporting a group that believes drinking before driving isn't really a problem," said Manhattan Assemb. Richard Gottfried, Democratic chairman of the state Assembly's Health Committee.

"Congressman Lazio has given a bunch of crazy people some credibility," said Marty Algaze, a spokesman for the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

Gail Barouh, president of the Long Island AIDS Coalition, expressed surprise that Lazio would promote such a research program. "We've met with Congressman Lazio on a regular basis," she said. "He's always been a strong supporter of our agency. He certainly never has given an indication that he believes the virus that causes AIDS is not HIV. I can't understand why he would support this group." Lazio's request for funding for scientific research for the group followed persistent requests by an organization called the New York Health Coalition, whose executive director, Steve Rogers of Roslyn Heights, identified it is a loose-knit association of volunteer consumers. He said his organization has no official affiliation with the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of HIV/AIDS.

Rogers had submitted a two-page proposal to congressional offices projecting a drastic reduction in AIDS infections and deaths as a result of the $2.5 million funding grant Lazio endorsed. The proposal said the money would go to the State University of New York at Stony Brook and would be overseen by the National Academy of Sciences.

But Dr. Norman Edelman, dean of the Stony Brook medical school, said he was unaware of any such grant proposal, and Rogers admitted Friday that he had not contacted Stony Brook.

"We were going to ask the University of Stony Brook, the alternative medicine department, before they closed down," Rogers said. "We didn't get a chance to. According to your paper, they shut down." Newsday reported Thursday that Stony Brook's alternative medicine program had lost its funding.

Using Lazio's letter, Rogers had pressed several members of the New York congressional delegation to support his proposal. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's office refused after reviewing the proposal, according to his chief of staff, Tony Bullock.

Rogers also used Lazio's letter when he went to Rep. Peter King's office, where he eventually obtained King's suppport.