A Grassroots Group Urged Missouri’s AG To Investigate Pfizer. Then Came the Money.

Shortly after Republican Andrew Bailey was appointed as Missouri’s 44th attorney general last year, a grassroots conservative group wrote him with a request: Join Florida in investigating Pfizer and other “Big Pharma” companies over the promotion and pricing of their COVID vaccines.

In the following months, other GOP attorneys general took action. Texas sued Pfizer in November “for unlawfully misrepresenting the effectiveness” of its vaccine. Kansas attorney general Kris Kobach, whom Bailey has worked with closely on lawsuits targeting abortion pills and student loan forgiveness, launched his own case against the pharmaceutical giant in June.

Though Bailey publicly rallied behind Missourians “who dared express concern over the vaccine’s efficacy,” he announced no action of his own against Pfizer.

At the same time, Bailey was raking in cash from the pharma giant. His financial disclosures reveal that in March 2023, weeks after the grassroots group, Freedom Principle MO, urged him to investigate Pfizer, the company sent Bailey a max-out contribution of $2,825. From there, top attorneys at a law firm, Cozen O’Connor, that has long represented Pfizer, kept the money flowing.

Cozen attorneys Lori Kalani, Bernard Nash, and Jerry Kilgore, himself a former Virginia attorney general, combined to send Bailey $1,500 in September, disclosures show. Cozen board member Milton Marquis sent Bailey another $500 in November. Months later, in March, Kalani, Nash, and Kilgore combined to contribute another $4,000 to Bailey. Cozen itself sent $2,500 to a political action committee backing Bailey in October.

The tactic was not a one-off for the attorneys, who have for years sent money to state attorneys general as they work to fend off costly litigation for their high-profile clients.

At least one of the Cozen attorneys, Marquis, is representing Pfizer in the Kansas suit, according to legal filings. Marquis’s online bio says he “represents large companies in connection with matters involving, or having the potential to involve, State Attorneys General.” It also touts his work for Fortune 50 pharmaceutical corporations.

Kalani, meanwhile, has long-standing relationships with state attorneys general, including in Missouri.

In 2013, for example, a coalition of 20 states accused Pfizer of illegally marketing drugs. Then-Missouri attorney general Chris Koster (D.), however, did not join the coalition. Instead, his office negotiated directly with Pfizer, eventually agreeing to a settlement that saw the company pay $350,000 less than it did to the states in the coalition, the New York Times reported in 2014. The move came after Pfizer and Kalani’s firm funneled thousands of dollars in campaign cash to Koster.

Now, roughly a decade later, Pfizer appears to have developed a similar relationship with Bailey.

While the Missouri attorney general has repeatedly conveyed his support for “COVID-19 vaccine dissent,” he has avoided mentioning Pfizer by name when doing so—though he has directly attacked fellow pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

“It’s worth remembering that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was limited by the CDC because of safety concerns,” Bailey tweeted in June 2023, roughly four months after he was pushed to probe Pfizer. “But the feds censored people for expressing concerns about safety.”

Bailey’s financial ties to Pfizer may attract the ire of conservative groups as the Republican campaigns for a full term against primary challenger Will Scharf.

Freedom Principle MO again wrote to Bailey in December to request a Pfizer investigation. “How long are we going to have to wait until we start holding these pharmaceutical companies accountable?” the group’s president, Byron Keelin, said in a letter. Months later, in June, Freedom Principle MO endorsed Scharf over Bailey.

Bailey campaign spokesman Michael Hafner told the Washington Free Beacon he could not find “any contributions from Pfizer to Bailey for Missouri” and dismissed Freedom Principle MO as a “faceless Twitter account,” questioning whether it was “a real group of people.”

“Please send me Will Scharf’s campaign address so I can invoice his flailing campaign for my time wasted on this ridiculous attempt at a hit job by his political hacks,” Hafner said.

Presented with links to the Pfizer donation and Freedom Principle MO’s letters to Bailey, Hafner said he does not “have the time to track” the “thousands of grassroots individuals in our state” and “every single contribution that comes in.”

Hafner also suggested that Bailey has launched an investigation into Pfizer and directed the Free Beacon to Bailey’s official office. A spokeswoman in that office told the Free Beacon that Bailey launched an investigation into Pfizer but had made no public announcement about it.

Pressed to provide documentation of that investigation, Bailey’s office declined, citing a Missouri consumer protection law that the spokeswoman said legally bars Bailey from disclosing the nature or timing of the investigation.

“I will say yes or no,” the spokeswoman said of the investigation, “and then I can’t give much more beyond that, just due to the nature of what is going on and the authority that we have under the law, until it comes to some sort of conclusion.”

The law she cited states that the attorney general cannot release documents uncovered as part of an investigation.

Bailey’s office has routinely publicized details relating to consumer protection investigations. Just three months ago, in April, Bailey released a slew of investigation announcements relating to distributors of “illicit vape and marijuana products.” He accused them of “deception and/or unfair practices within the scope of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act,” the same law the office said bars it from disclosing details of the Pfizer investigation. Freedom Principle MO urged Bailey to investigate similar allegations against Pfizer.

Bailey is a frequent topic of conversation within Cozen’s State AG Group. Chaired by Kilgore, a Republican who served as Virginia’s attorney general from 2002 to 2005, the group helps corporate clients “analyze and interpret AGs’ interests and understand how those interests inform their enforcement and policy priorities,” according to its website.

Ahead of Bailey’s November 2022 appointment, Cozen’s State AG Group released a podcast featuring Kalani, Kilgore, and Marquis, who discussed the implications of former Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt’s (R.) rise to the Senate. The group speculated that Bailey would succeed Schmitt and questioned “whether or not there’ll be a complete exodus” of staffers in the attorney general’s office following the appointment.

“I’m telling clients out there that I believe that a new AG will be appointed, but the staff will remain, at least at this senior level for some time,” Kilgore said.

“Those are very, very important questions coming up,” added then-Cozen attorney Paul Connell, “and who the governor appoints is going to speak very much to what our clients and other businesses out there can expect going forward.”

Kalani, who did not respond to a request for comment, left Cozen in April to join DraftKings, a Cozen client. Nash, Kilgore, and Marquis did not respond to requests for comment. Cozen spokeswoman Lisa Haas said the firm “is proud to support attorneys general of both political parties” and is “committed to integrity and follow[s] strict ethical standards and legal compliance.”

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