MADISON, Wis. — When Republicans on the legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance hired a lawyer/lobbyist to represent them, critics noted the sleazy deal was rife with possibilities for conflicts of interest. Research from One Wisconsin Now finds those fears may be coming true as the Finance Committee’s Republican majority and their lawyer/lobbyist potentially interfere with state Attorney General Josh Kaul’s efforts to hold manufacturers of opioids accountable for their actions fueling the addiction crisis.
“The post-election loss temper tantrum pitched by Republicans in 2018 and their recent sleazy deal to hire a lawyer/lobbyist as part of the mess they made keeps getting worse,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Analiese Eicher. “Not only is the lawyer/lobbyist hired by Wisconsin Republicans charging taxpayers $290 an hour, but his law firm is in line to pocket a percentage of opioid lawsuit settlements and his boss is lobbying for a drug company.”
The lawyer/lobbyist retained by Republicans also does work for the Wisconsin Counties Association, and was leading efforts to sign up local governments to sue manufacturers of opioids over their role in creating a nationwide addiction crisis. The Milwaukee firm that employs the lawyer/lobbyist is in line to pocket a 10 percent cut of attorneys fees from any settlement monies received by Wisconsin counties, according to a copy of an engagement letter the counties joining the lawsuit were being asked to sign.
A review of state Ethics Board lobbying registrations reveals that the head of the lobbying practice in which the Republicans’ attorney works is registered as working on behalf of drug manufacturer Bristol-Meyers Squibb. The drug manufacturer reported spending $30,000 on their lobbying efforts in the first six months of 2019, the last period for which information is available.
Adding to the overall sleaze factor, Republicans have been raking in campaign cash from the big drug manufacturers trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), that includes Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers as members. The campaign committees controlled by the leaders of the Senate and Assembly, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald and Rep. Robin Vos, have raked in $17,000 from PhRMA and the state Republican Party snagged another $12,000 through June 2019, according to state campaign finance records.
Eicher concluded, “We face the possibility of losing out on billions from holding the opioid manufacturers liable for the addiction crisis they fueled because of the mess Republicans made. Meanwhile Republican campaign committees and their special interest pals are laughing all the way to the bank.”