West Virginia Record

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Wishing for a super-sized slush fund

By The West Virginia Record | Jun 12, 2009

West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw has earned the greedy label this week for trying to stick drug maker Eli Lilly with a $2 billion fine for alleged mislabeling in its marketing of an anti-psychotic drug.

Setting aside the obvious questions -- whether McGraw has provided proof the company did something wrong (he hasn't) and whether a state attorney general has the authority to regulate drug marketing (he doesn't) -- most striking to us about this vendetta is the amount of money at stake and who stands to get it.

At going lawyer rates if the suit succeeded, about 40 percent ($800 million) would go to H. Blair Hahn, the South Carolina plaintiff's lawyer hired by McGraw to target Eli Lilly. And the rest would go to McGraw, stuffed away in a super-sized, $1.2 billion slush fund that makes his Purdue Pharma winnings look like loose change.

Refreshing memories, McGraw squeezed a paltry $10 million settlement in that state-sanctioned drug company suit. He didn't return the money to state taxpayers, on whose behalf he was supposedly suing in the first place. Rather, he paid his pal lawyers a big chunk of the loot and some appears to have been returned to him in the form of campaign contributions, then he spent the rest on pet projects around the state, priming the electorate for his 2008 re-election run.

The scheme worked: boosted by the hefty dose of taxpayer funds he spent promoting himself, McGraw narrowly won another term.

Unlike too many of McGraw's targets, Eli Lilly is pushing back hard against him. The company points out that its marketing methods and drug labeling are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not the West Virginia Attorney General. It has criticized his proposed fine as "unreasonable, overreaching and unconstitutional."

Indeed, it is all of the above. And because McGraw seems to answer to no one in this state, his unilateral, self serving aggression poses a threat to not just companies like Eli Lilly, but to each and every one of us.

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