Morrisey inaugural took money from pain pill distributor involved in AG lawsuit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A special fund established to pay for Attorney General Patrick's Morrisey's inaugural party received a $2,500 contribution from Cardinal Health in late February, the same company Morrisey's office has a pending lawsuit against for allegedly fueling West Virginia's problem with prescription drug abuse.
Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, is a lobbyist for Cardinal Health in Washington, D.C.
Cardinal Health, the nation's second largest drug distributor, paid her lobbying firm $100,000 last year, according to Henry's lobbying disclosure form.
The attorney general's Jan. 14 inaugural party was listed as a "political fundraiser" for "Patrick Morrisey ... Office of the Attorney General," according to filings with the Secretary of State.
On Wednesday, Morrisey said he stepped aside from the Cardinal Health case after taking office in January. He said his chief deputy, Dan Greear, has managed the case.
Morrisey alleged that former attorney general Darrell McGraw spoke to him about the Cardinal Health lawsuit at a parade during last year's campaign.
" ... My predecessor implied to me at a campaign stop that he had brought suit against Cardinal Health in retaliation for the fact I was running against him," Morrisey said in a prepared statement.
Morrisey said McGraw's comments disturbed him greatly and led him to believe "at least some part of that case [against Cardinal Health] was politically motivated."
"After I took office I decided that, not withstanding McGraw's comments, West Virginians deserved the case to be decided on the merits," Morrisey said. "While not required under the law, because of McGraw's ethically problematic comments, earlier this year I recused myself from the litigation as it pertains to Cardinal Health."
McGraw said Wednesday that he never spoke to Morrisey about the Cardinal Health lawsuit at a campaign stop or anywhere else.
"That did not happen," said McGraw, who served as attorney general for 20 years.
In April, Morrisey tapped the inauguration fund to pay his wife $2,741, according the attorney general's inauguration financial statement.
Morrisey said the inauguration committee reimbursed his wife for hotel rooms used by Jefferson County teenagers who volunteered for his campaign last year and attended the attorney general's inaugural.
"My wife has had no involvement in any West Virginia legal issues and is not engaged in any issues before our office," Morrisey said in his statement.
In late December, Charleston accountant Larry Pack established Morrisey's inaugural committee, calling it the "GOP Inauguration Committee," after Morrisey defeated McGraw in the November general election.
West Virginia law allows any statewide elected officer -- including the attorney general, agriculture commissioner, state auditor, treasurer and secretary of state -- to set up an inaugural committee.
West Virginia's governors typically establish such committees to pay for their inaugurals, but no other statewide elected officers -- other than Morrisey -- have formed inaugural funds in recent years, according to filings with the Secretary of State.
Morrisey held his inaugural ball on Jan. 14, raising more than $36,000. Major contributors included Cardinal Health's political action committee, which gave $2,500 on Feb. 19, and Capitol Counsel, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm owned by Morrisey's wife, which donated $5,000 to the inaugural fund on Jan. 28.
Cardinal Health executives previously donated $4,000 to Morrisey's election campaign last year, $3,000 of which came after then-Attorney General McGraw's office filed suit against Cardinal Health, alleging the drug wholesaler was distributing powerful painkillers, such as OxyContin, to "pill mill" pharmacies and doctors in southern West Virginia. Physicians prescribed the drugs and the pharmacies dispensed them for illegal use, according to the lawsuit.
McGraw alleged that Cardinal Health profited from West Virginia's prescription drug "epidemic," shipping enormous quantities of the pain pills to the state, and knowing they would be used illegally.
The lawsuit was filed in June 2012 in Boone County Circuit Court. Judge William Thompson is hearing the case. Morrisey did not disclose Cardinal Health's contribution to his inaugural fund in court filings.
Morrisey said such contributions are irrelevant to court proceedings, and it's not possible to report the donations to the court.
A $34 million fine
Last year, Cardinal Health settled government allegations that the company shipped large amounts of painkillers in Florida for non-medical needs. Cardinal Health, the nation's second largest drug wholesaler, agreed to a two-year ban on its federal license to distribute controlled substances in the state.
In 2008, Cardinal Health paid a $34 million fine after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency cited the company's Lakeland, Fla., distribution center for failing to notice suspicious orders for the painkiller hydrocodone.
Cardinal Health's contribution to Morrisey's inaugural came more than a month after Morrisey held the event, according to state filings. On the inaugural fund report, the drug distributor lists the address of a regional office in Albuquerque, N.M.
Morrisey used the inaugural fund to pay for event expenses, including $19,600 for meals, $2,000 for a band and $6,000 on invitations and postage.
But Morrisey also used the fund to pay more than $10,000 to campaign consultants, including Allison Meyers, who was fired in the 2010 "Bondage-Gate" scandal after she took members of the GOP's Young Eagles program to a lesbian-bondage themed strip club in Los Angeles. Meyers submitted a $2,000 tab to the Republican National Committee for the strip club party. Morrisey's inaugural fund paid Meyers $5,000 for "consulting services" and $392 for "mileage and expense reimbursement."
Scott Will, who headed Morrisey's campaign, received a $4,500 check from Morrisey's inauguration fund for "consulting services" on March 1, two months after the party. On April 8, Morrisey paid a Hurricane-based campaign consultant $1,000 out of the inauguration fund.
The three consultants were paid to raise funds for the inaugural, Morrisey said Wednesday.
Also on April 8, Morrisey's wife was paid out of the inaugural fund.
Morrisey's inauguration committee report says Henry was paid $2,741 for "expenditures," but the document doesn't list her expenses. State law requires that inauguration committees disclose the "purpose of the expenditures."
Henry, who has lobbied for Cardinal Health since 2002, did not respond to a request for comment.
On Wednesday, Morrisey provided copies of Henry's personal credit card bills, showing that she paid for Best Western hotel rooms and Enterprise car rentals for 18 Jefferson County teens who attended Morrisey's inaugural. The home-schooled students formerly worked voluntarily on Morrisey's campaign, answering phones at Morissey's "Victory Office." The students belong to a group called Generation Joshua-Patriots of the Eastern Panhandle, a conservative Christian group that encourages teens to get involved in politics and government to elect "godly Christian leaders to state and national offices."
"We teach young people what it's about to be good citizens," said Jeremiah Lorrig, the group's deputy director.
Celebrating 'historic gains'
Morrisey's inaugural committee didn't include the attorney general's name - and instead was called the "GOP Inauguration Committee." Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's inaugural fund was named more precisely -- "Tomblin Gubernatorial Inauguration Committee." The Secretary of State's website lists such inaugural funds as political action committees.
Morrisey said Wednesday the inaugural committee was set up to celebrate the GOP's "historic gains" after the November election. Morrisey, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall and House Minority Leader Tim Armstead "managed" the Jan. 14 inaugural, Morrisey said.
"We comply with all reporting requirements in anything we do, including with the inaugural committee," Morrisey said.
West Virginia law states that any excess inaugural committee contributions may be contributed to "any educational cultural or charitable organization."
Last month, Morrisey's committee distributed $3,200 in leftover funds to the Old Charles Town Library, Union Mission Ministries and the West Virginia Symphony.
Pack, who set up Morrisey's inaugural committee said he was on vacation this week and unable to comment until Monday. Cardinal Health spokeswoman Debbie Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment.
Morrisey's campaign remains saddled by $1.3 million in debt, according to Morrisey's latest campaign financial statement. He has raised $167,000 at post-election fundraisers -- separate from the inaugural fund since December. Morrisey loaned his campaign $1.4 million last year.
During his campaign, Morrisey promised to fight prescription drug abuse -- part of his "17-point plan" for his first 100 days in office.
In April, Morrisey sent a letter to legislative leaders, asking them to pass a bill that would give his office powers to prosecute prescription drug abuse cases.
He also joined 47 other state attorneys general in sending a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, asking the agency to require generic drug makers to manufacture "abuse-resistant" drugs.
West Virginia suffers from the highest drug overdose death rate, with most of those deaths caused by prescription painkillers.
Morrisey said Wednesday his office would continue to "prosecute" cases inherited from McGraw and "let the facts determine how our office proceeds."
"I ran against my predecessor's ethics, which we unfortunately are still cleaning up," Morrisey said. "But we won't let that get in the way of doing the right thing and ensuring that cases get decided on the merits, notwithstanding anything I may have heard about my predecessor's motives for bringing particular cases.
"When the facts merit going after a company for violating the law, we have demonstrated we will do so. When an investigation does not reveal wrongdoing, we will treat the individual or company fairly."
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.