State's campaign finance system allows opioid makers to donate to lawmakers, watchdog's research director says

By Ryan Croft | May 29, 2018

Florida lawmakers received more than $1 million in donations from opioid drug companies in the last 20 years, according to a recent investigation by the Miami Herald.

Florida lawmakers received more than $1 million in donations from opioid drug companies in the last 20 years, according to a recent investigation by the Miami Herald. 

A week before that report was published, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced May 15 she filed a lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers for being “no different than a street-level drug dealer,” a WJHG online article said. 

“They were on notice as to what they were doing, yet continued to do it and market their products,” she said in the article.

Soon after Bondi announced the lawsuit, the Miami Herald investigation revealed many Florida lawmakers received thousands of dollars in donations from major opioid manufacturers, totaling more than $1 million.

According to the Miami Herald article, Republican legislators or candidates received 89 percent of the donations.The largest donation amount, $15,250, was made to Rep. Jason Brodeu, chairman of House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

Brodeur stated the donations amounted to less than 1 percent of his total campaign contributions and denied they influenced his vote, according to the WJHG article.

“It’s not surprising,” Ben Wilcox, research director at the nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida, said. “Florida has a weakly regulated campaign finance system that encourages large donations from companies and individuals who are trying to influence public policy.”

Johnson & Johnson is the largest donor with contributions making up nearly half the $ 1 million total, including donations to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott holds $300,000 in Johnson & Johnson stock and awarded $4.9 million in incentives to the company in 2015, according to the WJHG article.

The governor received a total of $6,000 in donations from opioid companies while Bondi herself received $1,500.

Wilcox said Bondi filing a lawsuit against the very companies who donated to her might appear as “a conflict of interest, but it is not illegal.” 

“It is just the way we have decided to finance campaigns in Florida. You might call it legalized bribery.” he said.

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