Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, under scrutiny for role in opioid crisis, are big political spenders

perdue pharma

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(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As the opioid crisis continues to ravage the country killing more than 130 people per day in the U.S., the makers of the addictive opioid OxyContin face tightening legal challenges. The company, Purdue Pharma, has been run by the wealthy and influential Sackler family for generations. In 2016, the Sacklers were listed by Forbes as the 19th richest family in America with a $13 billion net worth. Both Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler clan have been active in the political realm.

The company and family have a widespread philanthropic influence as donors to high-profile locales like the Louvre, the Guggenheim, Columbia University and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now they are faced with numerous lawsuits, including two from the Massachusetts and New York attorney generals that allege the family contributed to the opioid epidemic through deceitful advertising techniques regarding the powerful OxyContin painkiller.

With the company increasingly in the crosshairs of the courts and 2020 presidential contenders like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Purdue Pharma stepped up its Congressional lobbying efforts the past two years. In 2017, the company spent $940,000 and increased it to $1.12 million in 2018, its highest level ever. Nine of the 10 lobbyists Purdue Pharma employed in 2018 are members of the “revolving door” with close Capitol Hill connections like lobbyist Dora Hughes, a former health policy advisor to then-Sen. Barack Obama.

The company also employed the Purdue Pharma PAC to contribute to federal candidates, almost solely Republican ones. The 2018 cycle was not a positive one for the PAC, raising the least it has since 2010 with just $35,679. It also spent the least it ever has, only $20,733.

Seven different members of Congress received contributions in the 2018 cycle. Rep. G K Butterfield (D-N.C.) was the only Democrat to receive any contributions. The Next Century Fund, the leadership PAC for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), received $6,000 from the PAC.

The Sacklers have been major contributors, though their contributions fell off recently in the 2018 cycle. Between 12 different members, including spouses and one deceased family member, they have contributed more than $1.6 million all-time, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Overall, the family has favored Republican and conservative causes which have received 52 percent of the family’s total contributions. Some family members mostly favor Republicans, while others support Democrats. The overall top recipient of the 12 family members’ contributions was the Republican National Committee (RNC) with $252,700.  

Beverly Sackler, the wife of the now-deceased Raymond Sackler who was one of the original founders, is one of the more active recent contributors. Beverly, who has given $113,650 all-time, contributed to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the 2018 cycle — now both are 2020 contenders. She also consistently contributed thousands to Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) who is reportedly weighing joining the Democratic primary.

Richard Sackler, son of Raymond and former chairman and current president of Purdue Pharma, has a history as a major Republican donor with most of his $170,250 going to conservative causes. While he hasn’t been as active the past two cycles, in 2012 he contributed thousands to Mitt Romney, the RNC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).  

Jonathan Sackler, another son of Raymond, favors Democrats who have gotten much of the $284,895 he has contributed over the years. He has given to the likes of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bennet. His wife, Mary Corson, has contributed $134,600 also mainly to Democrats.

The biggest donor in terms of dollars in the family is Mortimer Sackler, son of the elder Mortimer Sackler who was one of the original founders and a former CEO. The younger Mortimer, currently a Purdue Pharma board member, has given $439,099, almost solely to Republican and conservative causes. He’s contributed thousands to the NRSC and RNC, as well as to John Kasich and Carly Fiorina during their 2016 presidential campaigns. His wife, Jacqueline, has contributed $248,496, also favoring Republicans.

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Raymond joined CRP as a reporting intern in January 2019. He graduated from Duquesne University with a B.A. in political science in December 2018. Prior to joining CRP, Raymond served as news editor and, most recently, editor-in-chief for The Duquesne Duke, Duquesne’s independent student newspaper. He grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

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