A closer look at Patrick Morrisey's family ties to 'big pharma'

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey speaks on Sept. 18, 2017, at a news conference at Marshall University. (APJohn Raby)
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey speaks on Sept. 18, 2017, at a news conference at Marshall University. (APJohn Raby)

Late on a Sunday night in mid March, West Virginia Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Morrisey mixed it up on Twitter with a critic.

The back-and-forth started when Twitter user Todd Wentz — whose profile has 76 followers – responded to a tweet in which Morrisey attacked his Senate primary rival, Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins, over gun issues.

Wentz, referring to Morrisey’s past lobbying work for a pharmaceutical and health care company, asked in a tweeted reply "how many pain pills did he flood our state with."

Morrisey shot back, "Would you believe none? And dramatically reduced overall totals more than anyone else? Amazing how the truth sounds! No one has done more to take on excess supply."

Wentz responded (with some misspellings), "Your kidding right? So your wife isn't a lobbyist for big pharma? Your firm doesn't handle cardinal healths business? And then why has the media named you ‘pain pill pat’ , everyone knows your a schill for @cardinalhealth"

Morrisey responded, "It’s all false and you are a troll!"

This exchange caught our eye while looking for political statements to check in our partnership with the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

When we looked into Wentz’s questions, we discovered that at least one portion of Morrisey’s assertion is itself false. According to federal disclosure forms, Denise Henry Morrisey is a lobbyist for major pharmaceutical companies.

Morrisey’s response was intended to counter the overall point of Wentz’s Twitter argument that Morrisey "flooded the state with pain pills," said Nachama Soloveichik, a campaign spokeswoman.

"He did lobby for pharmaceutical companies, but never on the opioid issue," Soloveichik said. "So there was no evidence that he ‘flooded the state with pills.’ "

With that squishiness, we aren’t putting this claim to the Truth-O-Meter. But we still wanted to give the couple’s lobbying history a closer look. The opioid epidemic, has hit West Virginia harder than any state, and it has become both a major part of Morrisey’s actions as attorney general and the source of periodic controversy for him.

The winner of the May 8 GOP primary, which also includes convicted mining CEO Don Blankenship, will challenge the state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Prior to becoming attorney general, Patrick Morrisey lobbied for the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, a group that represents drug wholesalers, while working for the law firm King & Spalding, the Gazette-Mail has reported. Among the association’s members is Cardinal Health, which had been sued over the opioid issue by his predecessor as attorney general.

Cardinal Health has paid nearly $100 million in settlements to state and federal governments due to suits targeting its role in shipping prescription medications that later were abused, Columbus Business First reported earlier this year.

Denise Henry Morrisey’s lobbying practice

Denise Henry Morrisey is a partner with the Washington lobbying firm Capitol Counsel. Under federal law, all lobbyists and lobbying firms have to disclose which clients have retained them and how much they were paid. So we looked her up in the online database.

The most recent disclosure forms, from 2017, show that she was a named lobbyist for several major pharmaceutical clients that retained Capitol Counsel. (The payments listed are for 2017 and were made to the firm, not necessarily to Morrisey in particular. The Gazette-Mail, citing U.S. Justice Department records, has reported that she holds a 15 percent stake in the firm.)

Biotechnology Industry Organization: $240,000

Genentech: $240,000

Sanofi US Services Inc.: $240,000

Healthcare Leadership Council (whose membership includes many pharmaceutical company CEOs): $120,000

Merck & Co.: $90,000

Novartis Corp.: Amount not reported

She also represented additional clients in the health care field in 2017, but they are not pharmaceutical companies per se. They include the American Academy of Dermatology; American Academy of Ophthalmology; American College of Cardiology Foundation; Coalition to Protect Access to Care; Health Care Service Corp.; Hologic; Varian Medical Systems; Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; Physician Hospitals of America and Physicians Advocacy Institute.

One company not on that list of current clients is Cardinal Health. However, Denise Henry Morrisey was listed as a lobbyist for Cardinal on Capitol Counsel’s forms between 1999 and mid 2016.

We were unable to confirm whether any of Denise Henry Morrisey’s specific lobbying work addressed opioids. (Capitol Counsel did not respond to an inquiry.) The lobbying disclosure forms included codes denoting work on the following issues: Medicare/Medicaid, Health Issues, Copyright/Patent/Trademark, and Taxation/Internal Revenue Code. There is no specific code for lobbying on pharmaceutical drugs.

However, several of these clients are involved in opioids. Sanofi subsidiary Francopia bills itself as "one of the world’s major opiate producers." Members of the industry group BIO include Allergan, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, and Purdue Pharma, all of whom are being sued by New York City over their roles in opioids. And the membership of the Healthcare Leadership Council includes Cardinal, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer, which has been a smaller opioid player.

Patrick Morrisey’s efforts on opioids

Soloveichik said that as attorney general, Morrisey has worked to stop the opioid epidemic.

He has sued the federal Drug Enforcement Administration on the grounds that the agency hasn’t been doing enough to stop the flow of opioids into the state. He has also reached settlements with drug distributors worth a cumulative $47 million, after lawsuits were filed by his predecessor as attorney general, Darrell McGraw, in 2012. And he has worked to involve faith leaders in fighting the state’s drug problem.

Soloveichik added that "Patrick is the guy on the ballot," not his wife.

Who is Todd Wentz?

So who is the man Morrisey dismissed as a "troll"?

Wentz is 43 and works security for a local hospital in Charleston. He’s also a registered Republican, though he says he looks at issues more as an independent.

He used to be an opiate addict, he told PolitiFact, so the issue is very important to him.

"I have been clean through the grace of God for six years come April 5," he said. "So I know the perils from that end, and now that I've turned my life around and work security at a hospital, I see the desperation in these people's eyes. I find needles left all over the place. I see people choosing to be homeless to chase opiates other than be clean and safe."

Wentz said he was "a little shocked" that Morrisey "went at me like that" on Twitter.

"Really the only forum an ordinary Joe like me has to voice my opinion straight to him is by social media," Wentz said.

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