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Kentucky attorney general has taken thousands in donations from Big Pharma lobbyists

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican candidate for governor in the state, accepted campaign money from lobbyists for corporations that paid settlements in connection with the opioid crisis.

By Matt Cohen - April 07, 2023
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Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron responds to a question during the Kentucky Gubernatorial GOP Primary Debate in Louisville, Ky., on March 7, 2023.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron responds to a question during the Kentucky Gubernatorial GOP Primary Debate in Louisville, Ky., on March 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, Pool, File)

When Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s Republican attorney general, announced his gubernatorial bid in May of 2022, one of the accomplishments that he highlighted on his campaign website was “ending the opioid epidemic” by spearheading “the creation of the Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission, tasked to distribute the Commonwealth’s portion of the over $842 million from settlements Cameron reached with drug companies for their role in the deadly opioid crisis.”

But according to campaign finance documents reviewed by the American Independent Foundation, Cameron has accepted more than $11,000 in campaign contributions from lobbyists for the very same pharmaceutical companies he fought in court.

Cameron has reached several massive settlements with major pharmaceutical companies that agreed to pay more than $842 million to the state over their role in making opioids broadly available in Kentucky. It was an effort that was a cornerstone of Cameron’s attorney general campaign in 2019, when he called the epidemic “the public safety challenge of our lifetime” in an interview with the Associated Press.

In February 2022, Cameron announced the finalization of a national $26 billion agreement with three of the country’s largest pharmaceutical distributors, Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen, and with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, , in which Kentucky received a share of $478 million. Cameron reached similar financial settlements with CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, and Allergan in 2022, funds from which will be distributed through the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission, newly formed under Cameron’s office by unanimous consent of the Kentucky General Assembly.

During Cameron’s 2019 campaign, however, records show that he received a $1,000 campaign contribution from AmerisourceBergen’s political action committee. Two lobbyists for CVS contributed a combined total of $1,500 to Cameron’s 2019 campaign. One of those lobbyists, Marc Wilson, who registered as a CVS lobbyist in 2021, recently contributed $250 to Cameron’s gubernatorial campaign. Kelley Abell, a lobbyist for McKesson, has contributed nearly $4,000 in total to Cameron’s two campaigns, $1,750 in 2019 and $2,000 to his current campaign.

Jason Underwood, a lobbyist for United Healthcare, which was named in an Ohio lawsuit along with several other pharmacy benefit management companies as alleged collaborators with manufacturers in overprescribing opioids, gave Cameron $3,750 in campaign contributions between 2019 and 2022.

Kentucky is among the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky had the second-highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country in 2020. In 2021, 90% of all fatal overdoses in the state involved an opioid, according to a report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, with about 70% of these deaths linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid approved by the FDA and prescribed for severe pain relief.

Despite Cameron claiming that he has taken steps toward “ending the opioid epidemic” as an accomplishment on his campaign website, current data shows that there was an increase in fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky in 2021. The same report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy found a 14.5% increase in deaths from drug overdoses in Kentucky in 2021 over 2020.

The Republican and Democratic primaries in the Kentucky gubernatorial election will take place on May 16, 2023. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 7, 2023.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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