Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Father Made a Fortune Representing the Fragrance Industry


According to an article published by the New York Times on July 14, 2018, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s father, Edward Kavanaugh, “was paid $13 million, including his retirement package, in 2005, his last year at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association,” an organization of which he became president in 1972.  His yearly salary at the point of his retirement was $5 million. 

It’s safe to assume that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an only child, grew up in a home in which dinner conversation frequently revolved around the burden caused to the cosmetics industry by regulations. In his opening statement for his initial confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, Brett focused on his mother, a lawyer and judge, and mentioned his father only in passing as having instilled in him a “strong work ethic.” An astute politician, Brett would have realized that his father’s career wasn’t going to be a plus in the eyes of many voters. 

The New York Times article notes that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court will advance “Mr. Trump’s aim of dismantling the regulatory state, liberating industry from what he sees as burdensome rules. With critical battles over the environment and consumer protection headed for the courts, his ascent would likely achieve for industry incomparably more than all his father’s years of lobbying.”

In a September 13, 2018, article by reporter Stephanie Mencimer titled “The Many Mysteries of Brett Kavanaugh’s Finances,” Mother Jones asks:  “Who made the down payment on his house? How did he come up with $92,000 in country club fees?” The article begins by noting: “In May 2017, he [Kavanaugh] reported owing between $60,004 and $200,000 on three credit cards and a loan against his retirement account. By the time Trump nominated him to the high court in July 2018, those debts had vanished.” The reporter lists various questions about his finances that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent to Kavanaugh after the initial hearing and concludes that his wealthy father undoubtedly was the source of the sudden influx of money.

It is interesting to note that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who was critical in his questioning of Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the recent tense hearings, also encountered Brett’s father, Edward Kavanaugh, three decades ago when Senator Wyden was chair of the Senate Small Business Subcommittee on Regulation & Business Opportunities, which held a hearing on Cosmetic Safety on September 15, 1988. Edward Kavanaugh testified to the subcommittee as President of the Cosmetics, Toiletries, and Fragrance Association (CTFA).  Edward Kavanaugh’s 1988 statement before the committee can be viewed at approximately time code 2:50:02 of the following C-Span video of that hearing:


In his prepared remarks to the subcommittee on that occasion, Edward Kavanaugh delivered a well-spoken, polished, predictable defense of the cosmetic and fragrance industry. I have transcribed the following excerpt, which begins at approximately time code 2:52:08:

There’s no way to guarantee or to prove complete safety of any product under all circumstances. Cosmetics, like all other consumer products, do occasionally produce adverse reactions. These are generally mild, very temporary. They are also very rare. Our goal is to achieve zero incidence, and we’ll continue to work toward that goal.

The incidents described at your July hearing were terrible, and like you I am sorry for those people that were involved. At the same time, the personal tragedies suffered by those individuals are not representative of cosmetic product use. In fact, overwhelming evidence shows that cosmetic products have a superlative safety record. The data collected by the FDA under its voluntary cosmetic reporting program offers evidence of cosmetic safety. And according to these data, there are approximately 1.6 reported reactions for every million products distributed, an outstanding safety record.

The key sentence to focus upon here is this one: “The data collected by the FDA under its voluntary cosmetic reporting program offers evidence of cosmetic safety.” It should be obvious to any objective person that cosmetic manufacturers have a vested interest in not recording or reporting incidents which people reacting to a fragrance or other cosmetic report to the company. That’s like asking the fox how many chickens disappeared from the hen house overnight.

It is instructive to read Senator Wyden’s excellent statement as he opened this hearing on cosmetic safety:

In essence the industry’s safety mechanism is a piecemeal, patchwork system in dire need of repair. It’s my view, having examined the evidence of the first hearing and accumulated additional information since then, that the industry essentially says to the American consumer: “Trust us. We know best. We’ll make sure that safety issues are taken care of.”

.   .   .   .   .   .

At present the government can’t get information on specific ingredients, and what is even more serious, it can’t get information on the possible interactions and formulations of the cosmetic chemicals. So we asked, what if the cosmetic ingredients produced a potentially harmful reaction, particularly as it relates to long-term effects, our subcommittee is very concerned. We heard testimony earlier that there is essentially no effort to look at the long-term health effects of these cosmetic products, and that is one of the most important health issues that we are going to address. The fact is, as long as the data remains hidden in the pockets of the manufacturers, we’re not going to know the full ingredients and the full effect of those ingredients on those who use them.

From a historical perspective, I found it informative to see that three decades ago the subcommittee was not yet hearing from large numbers of people in the general public who react to fragrances in a manner that impacts their lives to the extent that they can no longer tolerate fragrances in the workplace or elsewhere. This impression is one that I derived from the following statement by Senator Wyden, which appears at time code 1:11.

At our July 14 hearing witnesses told us how dangerous these products can be. For example, the subcommittee heard from one consumer whose hair caught on fire after she used a hair spray and then lit a cigarette shortly afterwards. Now she’s permanently disfigured and in constant pain.

Also at that hearing cosmetologists explained how they had suffered irreparable nervous system damage, memory loss, and severe respiratory problems as the result of using cosmetic products.

Senator Wyden’s interchange beginning at about time code 59:46 with Dr. Frank Young, who was testifying as Commissioner of the FDA, is also of particular importance:

Senator Wyden: As a matter of public health policy, very often problems you see with workers turn up in the general population as a whole because the workers are the first to experience them.

If you are a cosmetologist, you may use the product of course a tremendous amount in a very short period of time, but if you are a consumer, you may use the same product also a tremendous amount over a longer period of time, and it’s possible that what we learn from analyzing worker health problems can help prevent problems with the general population as a whole.

.  .  .  .

Dr. Young:  I could give you example upon example where a toxic exposure in the workplace gave good examples of where we’re going, and that’s why I’m so interested in cooperating with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] to see what we can do to minimize those and I’m pleased to learn of their recent regulatory action there.

Dr. Young, a former dean of the University of Rochester Medical School, also stated that he regretted the fact that medical schools were not spending much time on occupational health, which he believes is such an important field.

The parts of this three-hour video that I watched indicate that we have lost a great deal of ground since 1988. At that time it appears that the FDA wanted to become far more involved in supervising the cosmetic industry, as it supervises the food and drug industry.  The FDA’s attention and limited funds were understandably focused during that period, however, primarily on battling the AIDS epidemic and ensuring the safety of blood banks.