lobbyists

Addiction medication company reported pushing product through legislation, donating to TN legislators

Alkermes, a company that makes an addiction treatment medication called Vivitrol, has been pushing legislation at the state level that would give its product a preference over others, according to a National Public Radio report. At the same time, affliliate WPLN reports that the Alkermes donated more than $20,000 to Tennessee legislators last year.

State records show Alkermes registered four lobbyists for this year’s Tennessee legislative session. The company’s PAC registered to make state-level donations late in 2015, beginning actual donations in January of 2016.

There were several bills filed this year dealing with addiction treatment – including some that appear to be placeholder “caption bills” designed to be amended later. But a quick skim of legislative records indicates none advanced out of committee.

The NPR report – bearing the headline “A Drugmaker Tries To Cash In On The Opioid Epidemic, One State Law At A Time” — focuses on Indiana, where a registered Alkermes lobbyist, who also heads a mental health advocacy group, drafted a bill that was approved after what some thought was a misleading promotional effort. Excerpt:

He said the legislation would move the state “toward evidence-based treatment.”

But the bill wouldn’t do that. Instead, it would cement rules making it harder to access certain addiction medications — medications that many patients rely on. The goal was to steer doctors toward a specific brand-name drug: Vivitrol.

… His efforts have helped turn Indiana into what Alkermes describes in investor documents as an “up-and-coming” state, where the drug’s sales are poised to jump dramatically.

McCaffrey’s work promoting Vivitrol via legislation in Indiana is part of a larger pattern. An investigation by NPR and Side Effects Public Media has found that in statehouses across the country, and in Congress, Alkermes is pushing Vivitrol while contributing to misconceptions and stigma about other medications used to treat opioid addiction.

From WPLN:

In Tennessee, Alkermes has made 30 contributions to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and to political action committees. All of those were between January of last year and the November election. The company has also hired lobbyists.

It’s not clear, though, this early-stage political push has been persuasive. Marie Williams, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, says Vivitrol can be an effective treatment for some opioid abusers, but Tennessee doesn’t prefer it to other therapies.

“What we want is for people to get avenues of treatment, and we are for any avenue that will help you get into recovery and stay in recovery,” she says.

But, state officials add, drug courts are using Vivitrol more often. And that’s where many decisions about treatment are made.

Note: House Speaker Beth Harwell, who recently urged Attorney General Herbert Slatery to file a lawsuit against manufacturers of opioid drugs, was one of the bigger beneficiaries of Alkermes donations — $1,000 to her reelection campaign and $500 to her leadership PAC.

The Alkermes PAC on June 6 filed an amended version of its 4th quarter 2016 disclosure with the Registry of Election Finance that appears to duplicate most of the donations listed in a previous disclosure. (The duplication’s are not included in reaching the count of more than $20,000 to 30 legislators and PACs.)  Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance,  says via email that the Registry has sent a letter asking for clarification of the filing.

On fines for violations of TN campaign finance, lobbying laws going unpaid

The Registry of Election Finance and the Tennessee Ethics Commission have levied $730,000 in civil penalties since 2010, but collected just 21 percent of that total, reports The Tennessean.

The Registry, which oversees enforcement of campaign finance laws, has $356,125 in unpaid fines during the period while the Ethics Commission, which oversees enforcement of lobbying laws and the filing of conflict-of-interest disclosures, has $218,380 in unpaid penalties. (Note: A big chunk of the unpaid Registry penalties are from 2016, when the agency assessed $215,300 in fines with $172,275 unpaid as of last month, according to Registry figures.) If other unpaid penalties going back up to  26 years are added, the unpaid total reaches more than $1 million.

These findings underline what many Tennessee politicos already know: The public entities tasked with holding officials accountable have little, if any, teeth.

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Deal providing tax-exempt bonds to Nashville charter schools brings criticism

Working with a politically-connected law firm, two Nashville charter schools used an obscure Metro Nashville board to receive tax-exempt bonds for their projects that are drawing intense scrutiny after going unnoticed by other city officials for months, according to the Tennessean.

The deals approved by the Metro Health and Educational Facilities Board for Rocketship and Purpose Prep charter schools do not use local taxpayer money and contain no provisions that would put taxpayers on the hook. But critics on the Metro Council and the Nashville school board say the charters should go to banks for private financing and not use the facilities board, which can issue tax-free bonds for nonprofit groups.

They directed particularly sharp criticism at a $7.74 million in bonds for Rocketship, which is part of a national charter school network.

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Giannini part of new TN government/political consulting firm with Memphis as first client

Bill Giannini, a former deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance who unsuccessfully sought election as Tennessee Republican chairman in December, has launched a new consulting firm that, the Nashville Post reports, will “focus on efficient government and performance management” — not lobbying.

Called Resolve Consulting, the firm of the former Haslam appointee and his team will have a mix of public and private clients, with some political consulting on the side… Rachel Selbe is also a principal and the firm’s vice president. Selbe is a former program and policy development director for the state, and she served as an assistant general counsel for the state’s Regulatory Boards Division. Other employees include Emily Janney and Greer Kelly as strategic consultants and Kellee Mannix as a consultant and coach.

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TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, who is president-elect of of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has made more than 120 trips for conferences and meetings around the nation and world since taking office in 2011, reports WTVF-TV — and some say she’s spending “way too much time away from her office.”

McPeak told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “That (travel) absolutely is serving the taxpayers of Tennessee and our Tennessee consumers.” But, Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America wasn’t so sure.

“I think what happens as a result of these trips is less consumer protection, not more,” he said.

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Political activist Emison elected mayor, finds ‘financial distress’

John Avery Emison, active for years in statewide Tennessee policy and politics, has been elected mayor of Alamo, defeating 30-year incumbent and Tennessee Municipal League board member Tommy Green.

Since the May 6 election, Emison said in a telephone interview, his review of the Crockett County town’s books indicates the city’s water treatment system is in “financial distress” with an operating deficit that had not previously been reported to the Board of Aldermen.  He’s contacted state officials about the issue.

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A clash of press releases on 2017 TN legislature’s gunfights

In press releases, both the National Rifle Association, which advocates for less gun control, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which advocates for more, are pretty much proclaiming victory in the 2017 Tennessee legislative session.

That perhaps indicates the session was pretty much a mixed bag on the gun front. Here are the contrasting press releases:

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Nashville-only ‘Airbnb bill’ passes House; then dies in Senate committee

The House on Monday evening approved a controversial, much-lobbied and much-revised bill imposing state regulations on short-term house rentals – the final House version targeting only Nashville for key restrictions. But the companion Senate bill died today in the Senate Finance Committee, postponed until next year.

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More calls for Haslam veto of ‘natural and ordinary’ bill from backers of LGBT rights

Advocates for LBGT rights held a news conference Wednesday to urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the ”natural and ordinary” bill, though it’s a pretty safe bet he will not do so. Speakers included Jim Obergefell, an Ohio real estate broker who was lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court decision (entitled Obergefell v. Hodges) that validated same-sex marriages.

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Senate votes to keep secret some free out-of-state legislator travel

A bill that requires lawmakers to disclose expenses and the source of funding for travel was watered down in the Senate on Monday, reports The Tennessean.

One effect of the Senate amendment to HB275: Free trips for legislators to conventions of the American Legislative Exchange Council, sponsored by corporations interested in state policy issues, will remain undisclosed. ALEC covers costs of selected state legislators, typically freshmen or those holding ALEC leadership positions, with “scholarships.”

State law now requires disclosure of out-of-state trip expenses to such gatherings if the state pays the costs. But when the organization covers the cost, they are not reported.

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