Should you maintain any lingering attachment to “girlboss” ideology — the prevalent liberal idea that capitalism is better and more humane when women are in charge — the CV of Heather Bresch, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin’s daughter, makes for bracing reading. She’s enjoyed some accolades as a smasher of glass ceilings. She was the first female CEO of a large pharmaceutical company and one of only eighteen women to run a Fortune 500 corporation. In 2014, Bresch was named one of Fortune magazine’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.”
It’s quite a set of credentials. But looking more closely at the details of her career, Bresch has had a remarkably horrible impact on society, even by the usual standards of American capitalists.
You can always tell something about politicians by the connections of their close family members, spouses, and friends, as we argued here two years ago. Such people influence the way they think — all things being equal, we’d much rather elect a politician married to a nurse or a teacher, for example, than to a fossil fuel executive. Of course, humans aren’t wholly responsible for their family members, thank goodness, and in not every case will a relative’s questionable line of work affect a politician’s capacity to govern sensibly.
In the case of West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, however, his daughter’s former job — she was president, top lobbyist, and CEO of Mylan, a drug company — represents such a massive conflict of interest, with implications for policy that are shocking and disqualifying even by normal Washington, DC, standards. She’s not only the senator’s daughter, she’s a major donor.
And it’s worse than that. Much worse.
Last month, the Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported that Bresch worked with the CEO of Pfizer to keep the prices of the EpiPen artificially high. The EpiPen, as many readers with severe allergies know, is a lifesaving device patients carry with them in case of a serious allergic reaction that injects epinephrine into the body. As Grim reported, the emails about the 2011 deal between the CEOs were released as part of a lawsuit. Pfizer agreed to divest from its EpiPen competitor, giving Mylan a monopoly, allowing the company to continue raising prices without any competitive curb. (The deal — and the resulting price increase — was profitable to both companies, as Pfizer acquired King Pharmaceuticals, the company that made the epinephrine, while Mylan continued to make and distribute the device itself.)
In 2007, when Mylan first got the rights to the EpiPen, a two pack cost less than $100; after Bresch cut the aforementioned deal with Pfizer, the price increased to more than $600, with catastrophic results, especially for those who had to pay full price due to lack of adequate insurance coverage. As CNBC reported in 2016, the EpiPen only costs a couple dollars to make — including the drug. Oh, and as a side note, after the price increase, Manchin’s wife, Gayle Conelly Manchin, lobbied for federal legislation requiring schools to have EpiPens onsite.
The Manchins are truly the worst family in America.
Pfizer has settled a lawsuit on price-fixing in the case, and a similar legal action against Mylan is ongoing. Bresch stepped down from Mylan last year amid criticism over the unconscionable price increases. (Also, in 2017, Mylan was fined $465 million for ripping off Medicaid. You go, girl!) Bresch’s exit package was an eye-popping $37.6 million.
You could buy a lot of EpiPens with that, even at gouged prices. Perhaps that’s why Bresch’s remorse over this episode — expressed when she was questioned about it by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform — has seemed pro forma at best: with such a “retirement” nest egg, why should she care if children die? As one 2016 Bloomberg Business headline put it: “Mylan CEO Regrets Patient Blowback, But Not Expanded EpiPen Use.”
The main reason Joe Manchin is famous right now is that he is holding up a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that will allow American society to address a wide array of urgent social and environmental needs. It is crucial to the everyday survival of millions of working-class Americans, and the fate of life on Earth, as well as the short-term electoral future of the Democrats. One of the most popular provisions in that bill would make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies, a policy change that would vastly complicate the sort of shenanigans that have made Manchin’s daughter such a rich woman.
We all have disreputable relatives, but Manchin is implicated in his daughter’s career — she got her first job at Mylan after her dad put in a good word for her. What’s more, Bresch is far more involved than most daughters in her father’s career. As OpenSecrets reported last month after Grim’s story broke, Bresch’s company — PAC and employees — was one of Joe Manchin’s largest campaign contributors before it was purchased by Viatris in 2020. The largest donor to the Mylan PAC during the 2010 and 2012 cycles was Heather Bresch. In 2016 and 2018, Bresch and her husband, Jeff, a former partner at the law firm Jones Day, donated the maximum amount as individuals to Manchin’s campaign.
Last Tuesday, protesters with the Sunrise Movement, Ohio Valley Environmental Resistance, and Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America picketed Bresch’s $10 million home in Pittsburgh. Protesters asked Bresch to lobby her father to stop cutting the full $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, with no cuts to its investments in human survival and a livable planet. The protesters delivered a job offer letter to her, pointing out that 68 percent of West Virginia voters want the full legislation to pass, including the climate provisions, but Manchin “does not listen to his constituents and is trying to cut the bill into nothing. So, we need someone he will listen to . . . we believe that is you.”
The wrongdoing of his daughter should not overshadow the full horror Manchin’s awfulness as an individual. He was a coal baron before he was a senator, and he collects half a million dollars a year in dividends from his coal company. No wonder he opposes all the most important climate provisions in the proposed budget. His own conflicts of interest would disqualify him from office, if we had a sensible constitution aimed at preventing the capture and control of government by capitalists. Since we don’t, his constituents should have the good sense to vote him out. They’ve got plenty of good reasons to do so, but his Big Pharma daughter surely offers one more.