By Lawrence D. Weiss
I haven’t heard anyone call him “Bulldog Clarkson” yet, but Alaska’s Attorney General Clarkson and his predecessors have been successfully chasing and snagging some really big corporate evildoers. Typically Alaska teams up with dozens of other states to go after these board room bad guys, resulting in aggregate settlements worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Here are a few recent examples that may have affected you. Contact the Alaska Department of Law if you want more information.
GoogleIn the early years Google’s official byline was “Do no evil.” They appear to have strayed. In the United States past investigations of Google uncovered violations such as the widespread advertising of illegal drugs, and copyright violations. The European Commission has pursued several antitrust actions against Google and fined them $2.7 billion dollars. Now it’s Alaska’s turn.
Last summer Alaska’s Attorney General Clarkson joined 48 other attorneys general to investigate Google’s near-monopolistic control of online advertising and search traffic that may have led to anticompetitive behavior which ultimately harms consumers.
“A free and competitive market is vital to smaller businesses to be able to compete, and this is especially true in Alaska where businesses are trying to market beyond our borders both nationally and internationally,” said Attorney General Clarkson. “Alaska has a vibrant and growing small business community that relies increasingly on internet advertising. This is also true of digital publishers, such as newspapers, websites, and blogs. Anticompetitive conduct of the kind we are investigating has the potential to harm Alaskan businesses through artificial hikes in cost and stifling innovation.”
EquifaxIn September of 2017, Equifax announced a computer hacking incident that affected nearly half of the entire U.S. population — 147 million people. Hacked information included social security numbers, names, dates of birth, addresses, credit card numbers, and more. Equifax is one of the largest consumer credit reporting agencies in the world.
Shortly afterward, a coalition of 50 Attorneys General, including Alaska, launched a multi-state investigation into the incident. They found that the data theft occurred because Equifax failed to fully patch its systems and failed to maintain software that monitored their network for possible breaches. Consequently, the hackers penetrated Equifax’s system and were undetected for two and a half months.
Under the terms of the settlement which were announced this summer, “Equifax agreed to provide a single Consumer Restitution Fund of up to $425 million—with $300 million dedicated to consumer redress. If the $300 million is exhausted, the Fund can increase by up to an additional $125 million. The company will also offer affected consumers extended credit-monitoring services for a total of 10 years.”
Johnson & JohnsonIn October of this year Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Ethicon, Inc. agreed to pay Alaska and 40 other states over $116 million for the deceptive marketing of transvaginal surgical mesh devices (for women who suffer from stress urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse). According to the Department of Law,
“The multistate investigation found the companies misrepresented or failed to adequately disclose the products’ possible side effects, including the risk of chronic pain and inflammation, mesh erosion, incontinence developing after surgery, painful sexual relations, and vaginal scarring. Evidence shows the companies were aware of the possibility for serious medical complications but did not provide sufficient warnings to consumers or surgeons who implanted the devices.”
The nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers
“Frankly, this type of behavior is unconscionable. I am glad the court agreed to disclose the full complaint so Alaskans can see the misleading and illegal collusion these companies appear to have been engaged in. And all at the expense of people’s health,” said Attorney General Clarkson.
Earlier this year the State of Alaska along with 41 additional states and Puerto Rico joined with the State of Connecticut to sue 20 generic drug manufacturers for conspiracies to artificially inflate and manipulate prices and reduce competition for more than 100 commonly used generic drugs. These include the biggest multinational drug companies such as Teva, Sandoz, Mylan and Pfizer. In some cases, these actions by the corporate conspirators caused the price of generic drugs to rise by as much as 1,000%.
According to the Department of Law, “Among the evidence now public are emails between generic drug manufacturers coordinating their response to a Congressional inquiry, emails enforcing ‘fair share’ and ‘playing nice in the sandbox’ market allocation, ‘fluff pricing’ strategy and other brazen coordination to artificially inflate prices, hinder competition and unreasonably restrain trade across the industry.”
Approximately 90% of all prescription drugs sold in the United States are generics, so the price gouging allegedly practiced by these companies has directly affected most Alaskans. The medications affected in the alleged profiteering scheme include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, and a variety of drugs for treating for treating hypertension and heart disease.
“We have hard evidence that shows the generic drug industry perpetrated a multi-billion-dollar fraud on the American people … We all wonder why our healthcare, and specifically the prices for generic prescription drugs, are so expensive in this country — this is a big reason why,” according to Attorney General Tong from the State of Connecticut who originally initiated the research into the alleged conspiracy.