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Local News

Senator Ron Johnson Failed to Subpoena a Drug Manufacturer Complicit in the Opioid Crisis – He Was Rewarded With Thousands in Campaign Donations

AP Photo

Reinette LeJeune

Republican U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who served as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in 2018, failed to subpoena Teva Pharmaceuticals as part of an investigation into the drugmaker’s role in the opioid epidemic. The subpoena would have been issued on behalf of former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who was leading a probe into several drug manufacturers and distributors and exploring the companies’ role in the epidemic. Months later, Teva donated thousands of dollars to both Johnson’s campaign and a related PAC.

Teva Pharmaceuticals is one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the world, producing more prescription painkillers during the height of the opioid crisis than other manufacturers,  including Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer. In late July, Teva settled a flurry of lawsuits by reaching a tentative agreement to pay out $4.25 billion over 13 years to state, local and tribal programs for the damages their role in the opioid epidemic caused.

McCaskill accused Teva of “stonewalling” her work, which led to  McCaskill eventually asking  Johnson to issue a subpoena to Teva in order to compel the company to produce any omitted information. Johnson ultimately replied with a letter stating that the senator declined to do so because he wasn’t convinced that the drug manufacturer wasn’t cooperating. “From what I understand about your interaction with Teva, it appears that the company made a good-faith effort to provide you with information you seek,” Johnson wrote. 

McCaskill’s investigation seemed to stall after Johnson declined to subpoena Teva — though litigation against the company from numerous states, including Wisconsin, continued. In the year and a half after the Senators’ disagreement, Teva’s political action committee made two donations to Johnson’s campaign and a related PAC, totaling $3,500. On Dec. 5, 2018, Teva donated $2,500 to Johnson’s leadership PAC, Strategy PAC. According to Open Secrets, a nonprofit that tracks data on campaign finance and lobbying, “Leadership PACs are designed for two things: to make money and to make friends, both of which are crucial to ambitious politicians looking to advance their careers. Leadership PACs are used to fund expenses that are ineligible to be paid by campaign committees or congressional offices. Those costs can include travel to raise a politician’s profile, for instance.” Nine months later, on September 30, 2019, Teva donated another $1,000 directly to Johnson’s campaign. 

In November, Johnson will face Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in a general election that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year.