During West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s first three years in office, his wife lobbied federal lawmakers on opioid-related issues for drug wholesaler Cardinal Health, the state’s leading supplier of prescription painkillers, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress.
Denise Henry Morrisey lobbied federal lawmakers on legislation and rules that aimed to impose tighter regulations on hydrocodone, a powerful opioid painkiller sold under brand names like Lortab and Vicodin, according to seven lobbying reports filed between 2013 and 2015. Denise Morrisey signed all but one of the disclosures.
Between April and December 2013, she represented Cardinal Health on federal legislation called the Safe Prescribing Act of 2013, the disclosure forms show. That bill targeted hydrocodone prescribing, while Patrick Morrisey’s office was overseeing a lawsuit that accused Cardinal Health of fueling the opioid epidemic by shipping excessive amounts of hydrocodone and oxycodone to the state.
In recent weeks, Morrisey has sidestepped questions about his wife’s lobbying amid a contentious U.S. Senate Republican primary. Two of his opponents, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins and former coal executive Don Blankenship, have sharply criticized Morrisey’s ties to Cardinal Health.
“It’s wrong that candidates for office attack my wife when she has nothing to do with opiate issues in West Virginia. Nothing,” Morrisey told the Gazette-Mail. “My wife never worked on any West Virginia issues. She’s not registered in West Virginia on these topics.”
Cardinal Health wrote a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2014, saying it did not object to increased restrictions on hydrocodone prescribing, but the company asked for more time to expand its warehouse “vaults” used to store powerful prescription narcotics. A Cardinal Health spokeswoman did not return a request for comment on Denise Morrisey’s lobbying work. The disclosures say her work included lobbying on hydrocodone storage requirements.
In July 2012, then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Health, alleging the company contributed to West Virginia’s prescription drug problem by shipping 241 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the state from 2007 to 2012.
Morrisey inherited the lawsuit when he defeated McGraw in the 2012 election. Morrisey stepped aside from the case in July 2013, after the Charleston Gazette reported that Cardinal Health had paid for his inaugural party and that his wife lobbied for the drug company. The state Lawyer Disciplinary Board investigated an ethics complaint against Morrisey, concluding he had “some involvement” in the Cardinal Health lawsuit, but never took part in a “substantive” way. The board dismissed the complaint.
Cardinal Health agreed to pay the state $20 million to settle the lawsuit in January 2017.
The Columbus, Ohio, drug distributor publicly stated last year that Denise Morrisey “did not represent Cardinal Health on prescription drug abuse legislation at the federal or state level.” A Cardinal Health spokeswoman later called the Gazette-Mail and acknowledged the statement was incorrect, after the newspaper sent copies of Denise Morrisey’s lobbying disclosure forms to the company.
Denise Morrisey was one of a dozen lobbyists at Capitol Counsel, a Washington, D.C., firm, that represented Cardinal Health on opioid-related matters before Congress, according to the disclosures.
Between 2013 and 2015, Cardinal Health paid Capitol Counsel $720,000 for lobbying work that included hydrocodone-related matters and other health-related measures before Congress. The forms do not provide details on how much the company spent on each issue. Nor do the forms show what each Capitol Counsel lobbyist was paid.
The company stopped using Denise Morrisey as a lobbyist in 2016, following a CBS News investigative report of Patrick Morrisey’s connections to Cardinal Health. She had lobbied for Cardinal Health for 17 years.
The federal disclosures show Denise Morrisey lobbied Congress on multiple prescription drug issues: new requirements for storing hydrocodone products, “advocacy on reducing prescription drug abuse,” and the 2013 legislation to reclassify hydrocodone, making it more difficult to prescribe. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was one of four chief sponsors of the bill, which has prompted a significant decrease in the number of hydrocodone pills prescribed in West Virginia and other states.
Denise Morrisey also lobbied on prescription drug legislation for Cardinal Health between 2008 and 2013, the disclosures show.
In 2016, Cardinal Health agreed to pay a $44 million fine for opioid shipping violations — the second time the company had been sanctioned for opioid sales. Eight years earlier, Cardinal Health paid a $34 million fine to settle allegations it shipped hydrocodone to rogue Internet pharmacies that filled bogus prescriptions.
Cardinal Health paid Denise Morrisey and her lobbying firm $1.4 million after her husband became attorney general, according to lobbying disclosure reports. Morrisey has repeatedly said he doesn’t see a dime of the money she makes lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Amid the 2015 lawyer disciplinary board investigation of Morrisey’s ties to Cardinal Health, Morrisey asserted that he has “no material interest in any compensation” received by his wife. He added that his wife’s income has “no impact” on his judgment, and the couple “do not share confidences” of their clients with each other.
Denise Morrisey’s “compensation is based 100 percent on the revenue generated by the clients that she is listed as working on behalf of under the Lobbying Disclosure Act,” Capitol Counsel said in a statement issued last year.
As a partner at Capitol Counsel, Morrisey’s wife holds a 15 percent stake in the lobbying firm, and her online LinkedIn bio lists her as “owner.” She did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
On his financial disclosure form filed with the state Ethics Commission, Morrisey lists three sources of household income: his $95,000 salary as attorney general, rental income from a condo, and his wife’s earnings from Capitol Counsel.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating Cardinal Health and other drug wholesalers.
In a recent letter to Cardinal Health, the committee cited data that shows the drug wholesaler supplied Family Discount Pharmacy, in Mount Gay, with 6.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone between 2008 and 2012. That’s 3,561 painkillers a day to a single pharmacy in rural Logan County. The panel also raised questions about Cardinal Health’s hydrocodone shipments to Hurley Drug pharmacy in Mingo County.
Patrick Morrisey was a former deputy staff director of the same House committee. He also later lobbied for the Health Care Distribution Management Association — now called the Healthcare Distribution Alliance. The group represents Cardinal Health and other distributors.
Morrisey also has acknowledged that he has represented Cardinal Health as a private lawyer, according to the disciplinary board report.
At a debate last week, a moderator asked Morrisey about his past lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry.
“You may not know this from the ads, but we never worked on opiate issues in the private sector,” he said.
During President Donald Trump’s April 5 visit to Greenbrier County, the Gazette-Mail asked Morrisey whether his wife had ever lobbied on opioid issues.
“I’ve never worked on opiate issues in the private sector,” Morrisey responded.
In the November 2016 election for attorney general, Morrisey defeated Democrat Doug Reynolds, a Huntington lawyer and businessman. Reynolds is majority owner of HD Media, which bought the Gazette-Mail earlier this year.