It’s not unusual for high-level campaigns to have an “October Surprise,” when some previously unknown piece of information emerges—often released by one of the candidates—that may impact the race.
That surprise in this year’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey hit right on time, just one day before early voting began.
Manchin held a news conference and appeared on Talkline to charge that Morrisey is about to settle the state’s lawsuit against prescription drug distributor McKesson Corporation for $35 million dollars. Manchin claimed the amount of the expected payment to West Virginia for the company’s role in perpetuating the opioid crisis in the state amounted to “a mugging in broad daylight.”
The Senator accused Morrisey, who has historic and family ties to firms that have lobbied on behalf of big Pharma, of being soft on the drug companies. “Letting them off easy is downright criminal,” Manchin said.
However, The Attorney General’s office shot back that there is no settlement. “We have no offer from McKesson. None,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Anthony Martin. “Anything to the contrary is utterly dishonest and furthermore ignores that within hours of the filing, Attorney General Morrisey voluntarily recused himself from the McKesson matter and has not been involved in the case.”
So, is there or is there not a settlement pending? The Justice administration, which would have to sign off on any deal, is cryptic. “I’m aware, but I don’t know the specifics to know that there is a settlement pending…in the next hours,” Governor Jim Justice said at a Thursday news conference. “All the parties that are working on it are trying to come to what is a fair settlement and a fair number.”
McKesson’s “Financial Results and Corporate Highlights” report released Thursday included this nugget on the page marked “other items.” “Opioids: McKesson recognized ($34M), or ($0.12 per diluted share) in opioid-related adjusted operating expenses. These expenses were driven primarily by ongoing litigation.”
Then the question is whether a settlement of $34 or $35 million is, as Justice said, a fair number? Clearly Manchin thinks it is not. However, Morrisey, during an appearance on Talkline Thursday, said that the state last year settled opioid suits against Cardinal Health for $16 million and AmerisourceBergen for $20 million, meaning a settlement of $34-$35 million with McKesson would be the largest yet.
Another question is if there is a settlement, would Morrisey announce it and take credit for it just days before the election, especially since he has recused himself and, according to sources, has stayed away from the case.
Manchin must have thought Morrisey was poised to make some political hay, thus his pre-emptive presser.
All this is a lot for the media to sort out and voters to digest during the final days of the campaign. As Governor Justice said, “I know just that today there’s just too much politics in a number.”