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Prescription drug money fuels Morrisey campaign

AP file photo
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaign getting money for his re-election, both directly and indirectly, from drug companies and lawyers that have profited off of the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail file photo Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s campaign is getti

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s re-election campaign is benefiting from money — both directly and indirectly — from lawyers and companies that have profited from the state’s prescription drug epidemic.

Prescription drug wholesalers being sued by Morrisey’s office for their role in fueling the state’s ongoing opioid problem have indirectly funded a portion of Morrisey’s re-election efforts.

Since 2014, McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health, both defendants in state lawsuits overseen by Morrisey, have donated a total of $50,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has spent more money than any other organization in West Virginia to re-elect Morrisey.

What’s more, at least two lawyers representing drug distributors in the lawsuits have contributed directly to Morrisey’s campaign.

Morrisey also has taken campaign contributions from OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma.

Morrisey is the only candidate in West Virginia, at any level of office, from House of Delegates, to Congress, through the governor’s race, to receive money from Purdue Pharma’s political action committee, which gave him the maximum allowable $1,000 in his uncontested primary election.

He is the only West Virginia candidate to receive money ($1,000) from Mallinckrodt, an Irish pharmaceutical company that produces several opioid products.

On the campaign trail, Morrisey has repeatedly touted his office’s “aggressive” fight against prescription drug abuse, and he has introduced initiatives that he says will significantly curb the number of opioids in West Virginia.

Morrisey campaign spokeswoman Kayla Berube said Morrisey holds the office and his campaign to the “highest of ethical standards.”

“He has a policy that prohibits intentional solicitation and acceptance of contributions from companies the office is suing,” Berube said.

Del. Don Perdue said Morrisey, a former lobbyist for the prescription drug industry, has “put his office up for sale.”

“Any argument that suggests these type of contributions are innocuous or have no effect defies logic,” said Perdue, a Wayne County Democrat and retired pharmacist. “Coupled with his strong personal ties to the drug industry and the legal gymnastics he has performed to slow down the litigation regarding the distribution of narcotics, it defies belief.”

D.C. law firms representing OxyContin maker give to Morrisey

While Purdue Pharma isn’t a defendant in the state’s lawsuits against drug wholesalers, the complaints allege the distributors shipped an excessive number of oxycodone pills (often sold under Purdue’s OxyContin brand name) to rogue pharmacies in West Virginia. The companies distribute more than 40 million oxycodone pills to West Virginia every year.

Thirty-five lawyers — whose Washington, D.C.-based law firms either lobby for Purdue Pharma or represent the drug giant in OxyContin-related lawsuits across the nation — have given Morrisey’s re-election campaign a combined $23,550 in the primary election cycle alone.

Purdue Pharma, whose drug is held more responsible than any other for the nation’s opioid epidemic, gave $290,000 to the Republican Attorneys General Association since 2014, IRS records show.

“We contribute to those who share our commitment in combating prescription drug abuse,” said Bob Josephson, communications director for Purdue Pharma.

During the same time period, Cardinal Health, the nation’s second largest prescription drug distributor, gave more than $34,000, and McKesson, the largest wholesaler, pitched in $16,000.

Morrisey inherited lawsuits against Cardinal Health and a dozen other distributors from his predecessor, Darrell McGraw. In January, Morrisey filed suit against McKesson after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s aides prodded him to do so for more than a year.

RAGA also received donations totaling nearly $37,000 from two law firms — Foley & Lardner and Clark Hill PLC — that are representing other prescription drug distributors Morrisey’s office is suing.

The Republican Attorneys General Association, through an affiliated political action committee, has already spent nearly $640,000 in West Virginia this year to help re-elect Morrisey. That’s more than Morrisey and his Democratic opponent, Delegate Doug Reynolds, combined have spent on their campaigns so far.

That PAC, Mountaineers Are Always Free PAC, was founded in May and is funded exclusively by RAGA.

Scott Will, RAGA’s executive director and chairman of Mountaineers Are Always Free, was Morrisey’s campaign manager in 2012.

RAGA has also received major donations from such drug industry titans as Pfizer ($150,000), Eli Lilly ($76,000), GlaxoSmithKline ($50,000) and PhRMA ($50,000), the leading industry trade organization, representing nearly 60 pharmaceutical companies.

The donations from drug companies and their law firms are a veritable drop in the bucket for RAGA, which has raised more than $15 million this election cycle. The organization’s major donors include conservative heavyweights such as Koch Industries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Sheldon Adelson.

“RAGA receives support from a wide variety of people and industries interested in supporting the rule of law,” Will said in an emailed statement.

McKesson, Cardinal Health and Purdue Pharma also have donated to the Democratic Attorneys General Association, but that group hasn’t spent any money in West Virginia. Reynolds has largely self-funded his campaign so far and has not received help from any outside groups or super PACs.

RAGA, which advertises on Morrisey’s behalf, is legally prohibited from coordinating with his campaign.

Morrisey contributors include lawyers for drug wholesalers

In April, Huntington lawyer Marc Williams gave $500 to Morrisey’s campaign — one of two lawyers to donate to the campaign who also represents a drug distributor that Morrisey’s office is suing.

“I don’t think there is any conflict,” Williams said. “All of the counsel that are representing the state in that, which includes staff attorneys and retained outside counsel, have done so vigorously and represented the state’s interest well in a way that would make any objective observer proud.”

Williams said he has also worked on other cases that Morrisey’s office is involved in — both with and against the attorney general — including litigation over the 2014 Elk River chemical spill, where he represents Eastman Chemical.

Williams, who’s defending drug wholesaler J.M. Smith, praised Morrisey, saying he had “significantly enhanced the quality of representation and lawyering in that office since he took over” in 2013.

The other drug company lawyer, Charles Bailey, did not respond to requests for comment. Bailey, who represents Quest Pharmaceuticals, gave Morrisey $1,000 in 2015.

Another lawyer who formerly represented a drug wholesaler being sued also donated to Morrisey’s campaign in May.

Two of Morrisey’s former employers — Washington, D.C., law firms King & Spalding and Sidley Austin — have given RAGA a combined $30,350.

King & Spalding is lead defense counsel for Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin-related lawsuits. Sidley Austin lobbies for Purdue Pharma on Capitol Hill.

While Morrisey worked for Sidley Austin, lobbyists for Purdue Pharma listed Morrisey as the firm’s contact, according to lobbying disclosure forms.

At King & Spalding, Morrisey himself lobbied for the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, a trade group that represents McKesson, Cardinal Health and other prescription drug wholesalers, generating $250,000 for the firm.

Morrisey’s wife, Denise Henry, lobbies for Cardinal Health in Washington.

Since last year, King & Spalding lawyers contributed $14,800 to Morrisey’s campaign, while Sidley Austin lawyers and lobbyists have added $8,750 to his coffers.

Lawyers from both firms, along with prescription drug wholesaler PACs and executives, also helped bankroll Morrisey’s 2012 campaign.

Cardinal Health executives donated $4,000 to Morrisey’s campaign in 2012, $3,000 of which came after McGraw’s office filed suit against the company. A Cardinal vice president also contributed $1,000 to Morrisey’s campaign in December 2012, a month after Morrisey defeated McGraw. Cardinal Health also contributed $2,500 to Morrisey’s inauguration ceremony

A McKesson vice president contributed to Morrisey’s campaign in 2012, and AmerisourceBergen’s PAC donated $2,000 to the campaign the same year.

In January, Morrisey recused himself from his office’s lawsuit against AmerisourceBergen and 10 other smaller distributors, following a state Lawyer Disciplinary Board investigation. The disciplinary board concluded that Morrisey did not violate any lawyer ethics rules, but the board suggested he step aside from the drug company lawsuit to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

That same month, Morrisey also recused himself from his office’s lawsuit against McKesson, after heading an investigation of the company for more than a year.

Morrisey previously stepped aside from the Cardinal Health lawsuit — a recusal he characterized as a “permanent screen” — in July 2013, seven months after taking office, according to the disciplinary board.

The investigative panel found the contributions from the drug wholesalers and their executives didn’t appear to “amount to extraordinary campaign support,” and it wasn’t unethical for Morrisey to accept the donations.

But the disciplinary board noted that attorneys general in other states restrict campaign contributions from companies their offices are investigating.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5199 or follow @davidgutman on Twitter.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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