States split by party on accepting Purdue Pharma settlement

MINNEAPOLIS – The opioid crisis has hit virtually every pocket of the U.S., from rural towns in deeply conservative states to big cities in liberal-leaning ones. But a curious divide has opened up.

The nation’s Republican state attorneys general have, for the most part, lined up in support of a tentative multibillion-dollar settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, while their Democratic counterparts have mostly come out against it, decrying it as woefully inadequate.

Exactly why this is so is unclear, and some of those involved suggested it can’t necessarily be explained by the way the Republicans have long been seen as more friendly to big business than the Democrats.

Some of the attention has focused on the role played by Luther Strange, a Republican former Alabama attorney general who has been working for members of the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma.

People familiar with the negotiations say he was at a meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association over the summer, pushing a settlement months before a tentative deal was struck this week.

Purdue has been generous in recent years to RAGA, contributing more than $680,000 to its campaign operation from 2014 through 2018. The company also gave to the organization’s Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, over the same five-year period, but far less: about $210,000.

Strange did not return calls from The Associated Press on Friday.

The proposed settlement with the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker could ultimately be worth up to $12 billion.

Nearly half the states and lawyers for some 2,000 local governments have tentatively accepted the settlement, according to people familiar with the talks. Under the deal, the company would declare bankruptcy and remake itself as “public benefit trust,” with its profits going toward the settlement.

The GOP attorneys general have generally contended that getting a settlement now is better than uncertainty and years of litigation, while the Democrats have mostly argued that the deal does not provide enough money and does not hold adequately accountable members of the Sackler family.

The states that have refused to sign on are expected to object in bankruptcy court and to seek to continue lawsuits against Sackler family members.

“I don’t think you should read a whole lot into it,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, said of the partisan divide. “My view is it’s a pretty close call to join or not. There are good arguments on both sides. All my colleagues who have made their decisions have made them in good faith.”

While Strange was part of negotiations with a bipartisan group of attorneys general, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, said he never spotted Strange at a gathering of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

Paul Nolette, a Marquette University political scientist, said in an email that the GOP attorneys general and local governments “don’t see this as a bad deal under the circumstances.” But he said Democrats have been stung by a backlash over settlements over foreclosures years ago, and they “see political risks for not pushing for more.”

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press writer Richard Lardner in Washington contributed to this report.

Steve Karnowski And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press