Drug industry lobbyist had fundraiser for delegates

LAWRENCE PIERCE l Gazette photo
The excursion boat Spirit of West Virginia makes its way up the river past the Capitol.

Two days after the House of Delegates killed legislation designed to decrease methamphetamine labs in West Virginia, a drug industry lobbyist hosted a fundraiser for Delegate Mark Hunt, who voted against an amendment on the House floor that would have required a doctor’s prescription for cold medications that fuel the clandestine labs.

Charleston lobbyist Nelson Robinson’s March 10 reception also raised funds for Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, who said he supported making cold medications containing pseudoephedrine prescription-only, but Wells didn’t cast a vote on the measure when it reached the House floor.

Hunt and Wells said Monday that Robinson’s fundraiser — detailed in campaign filings posted Monday — didn’t influence their position on the meth lab legislation. Robinson represents a Washington, D.C.-based drug industry trade group that opposed the bill.

Hunt, D-Kanawha, said he voted against the House-floor amendment requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, to keep a watered-down version of the legislation alive.

“There weren’t the votes to pass the prescription-only amendment,” Hunt said Monday. “If we made it prescription-only, ultimately the bill would have failed. By voting for that amendment you were voting to defeat the bill.”

Wells said he didn’t attend the floor session and vote on the amended bill because of a “family obligation.” Wells said he believes it was the first time he’s missed a vote on the House floor in 10 years.

“I didn’t think [the prescription requirement] had a prayer,” Wells said. “I thought it was a done deal. I hated missing the vote.”

Hunt noted that he voted for another House-floor amendment the same night that would have reduced the amount of pseudoephedrine that people could buy from 48 grams to 12 grams per year — or from about 20 boxes to five boxes.

Robinson and other lobbyists hired by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association opposed reducing yearly pseudoephedrine purchase limits.

The House ultimately passed legislation that would have dropped purchase limits to 24 grams, the same amount allowed under Kentucky law.

Hunt also voted for the 24-gram limit — an action he believes would have helped reduce meth labs across the state.

“You have to be realistic on these things in the Legislature,” he said. “You can be Don Quixote all you want, but Don Quixote won’t get you anything in the legislative process.”

Earlier, the West Virginia Senate approved a bill that would have required a prescription for pseudoephedrine — sold under brand names such as Sudafed and Allegra-D.

The anti-meth lab legislation died on the final night of the legislative session, after the House missed a deadline to file a compromise agreement on the bill. Robinson’s March 10 party raised $2,800 for Hunt’s campaign. Wells’ campaign finance report for the May primary wasn’t immediately available on the Secretary of State’s website Monday.

Robinson, who also lobbies for casinos and chiropractors, hosted the fundraiser at his office on California Avenue across the street from the state Capitol. Thirteen people, including lobbyists Phil Reale, Richard Stevens and Paul Hardesty, contributed money to Hunt’s campaign at the event.

Wells said Robinson’s son, Chad Robinson, who also represents the Consumer Healthcare Products Association and lobbied against the pseudoephedrine prescription requirement, serves as Wells’ campaign manager. Wells said Chad Robinson twice talked to him about the pseudoephedrine bill before the House vote. Wells said he didn’t switch his position on the legislation.

“I told him, ‘You’re wasting your time,’ ” Wells recalled. “They realized they didn’t need me.”

Robinson could not be reached for comment Monday.

Hunt said he and Robinson have been friends for more than 20 years. “Nelson said, ‘I’d like to hold a fundraiser for you and Danny, and you don’t have to do anything but show up,’ ” Hunt recalled Monday. “The universal answer to that is ‘yes, and thank you, sir.’ ”

Reach Eric Eyre at ericerye@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

More News