Rep. Joe Kennedy III is Democrats’ pick to respond to President Trump’s State of the Union speech. That could be a problem, given his big pharma ties.
Rep. Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) might be pharma’s favorite Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, given that he’s received more than $57,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry in this current election cycle alone. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, that’s approximately four times more than pharma’s average contribution to House Democrats. Over the course of his short Congressional career, Kennedy has received more than $348,000 since 2011.
However, Kennedy’s ties to pharma go well beyond campaign contributions. As the Boston Globe reported last year, Rep. Kennedy has more than $434,000 invested in Gilead Sciences, Inc. Gilead is the manufacturer of life-saving hepatitis C drug Sovaldi — which Gilead recently increased to $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a treatment. Rep. Kennedy’s financial disclosure forms show that he made between $15,000 and $50,000 off of selling Gilead stock in 2014. Kennedy bought Gilead’s stock at a time when hepatitis C was spreading rapidly throughout Massachusetts. He also holds the most Gilead stock out of all 23 members of Congress financially invested in the company.
The multiple financial ties Kennedy has to pharma may help provide context to his hesitation to embrace single-payer healthcare and legalized marijuana. In a September 2016 interview with Boston Magazine — just two months before Massachusetts voters would approve a ballot question legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational purposes — Rep. Kennedy came out against legalized marijuana using the tired “think about the children” trope.
“If we’re going to say marijuana is a medicine, it needs to be treated like a medicine and regulated like a medicine,” said Rep. Kennedy. “But when we look at full-on legalization, the potential danger that marijuana poses particularly to adolescents—I’m not convinced.”
And during an interview with Boston Public Radio last September, Rep. Kennedy would only rhetorically support the House version of the single-payer healthcare bill authored by former Rep. John Conyers (R-Michigan) co-sponsored by more than 100 members of his own party, but chalked up his hesitation to the finer details of the plan.
“I think [the bill’s cosponsors] are 100 percent right on the value that they are trying to enshrine in the federal law, that health care is a right in this country, not a privilege to be enjoyed by few,” Kennedy told WGBH. “There are some details, however, in that Conyers bill that I do have some struggles with, and [I’m] trying to work through a bit. If we can get there, then great, but regardless, healthcare is critically important to me, and I believe fundamentally in that principle, and we’ll keep pushing forward.”
Kennedy is the grandson of former Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and grand-nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. President Trump will give his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 30. Rep. Kennedy’s response will come shortly afterward.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.