CT treasurer candidate goes after Purdue Pharma, spotlights son’s death from fentanyl

Photo of Julia Bergman

Dita Bhargava, whose campaign for state treasurer has centered on investing in companies that practice good corporate governance and responsibility, has released a provocative new campaign ad that targets Purdue Pharma over its role in the opioid crisis, which took the life of her 26-year-old son.

The ad titled “Money” was filmed outside the pharmaceutical company’s headquarters in Stamford — the same place the Greenwich Democrat held a press conference Friday to draw attention to her plan, if elected, to use the state’s $45 billion in pension funds to support companies that, for example, guarantee reproductive health care for their employees and don’t profit from addiction or gun violence.

In the video, which began airing Thursday, Bhargava holds a framed picture of her son and points to Purdue Pharma’s building on Tresser Boulevard. “They killed a million people, including our son — all to make more money,” she says, looking into the camera.

It’s the latest - and deeply personal - attempt by Bhargava to appeal to voters in a midsummer primary by highlighting the power of the treasurer’s office to hold corporations accountable by the investments it makes. Bhargava recently won a fight against the online streaming service Hulu for initially refusing to run her campaign ad on abortion.

Bhargava said it’s been “four years, two weeks and two days” since her son, Alec Pelletier died of a fatal overdose of fentanyl. His death occurred several weeks before the 2018 primary for state treasurer, which Bhargava lost to Treasurer Shawn Wooden, who is stepping down after one term.

“Alec’s death was the result of several factors - corporate greed was a major one,” Bhargava said. “Between big pharmaceuticals that flooded our country with painkillers after lying about their addictive nature and health insurance companies that would not properly cover addiction and mental health treatment, the lives of so many have (been) destroyed or lost because of corporate greed.”

Bhargava said she chose to feature her son’s death as part of her campaign because of her “personal experience of the bad companies can do when they are guided by greed and power.”

Purdue Pharma, which must pay $6 billion to victims as part of a settlement with eight states including Connecticut, responded to the ad in a written statement Friday issued via a spokesperson.

“While we take issue with Ms. Bhargava’s statement about the Company, we respect that her feelings are deeply held,” the statement says. “We have the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis, and we are focused on concluding our bankruptcy so we can deliver billions of dollars of value for victim compensation, opioid crisis abatement, and overdose rescue medicines.”

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, co-chairman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, and hotel executive Gary Mendell, whose son Brian struggled with drug addiction and died by suicide in October 2011, joined Bhargava at Friday’s press conference. Brian had been clean for 13 months prior to his death, his father said.

Bhargava, an investment manager, is one of three Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for the open seat for Treasurer ahead of the Aug. 9 primary election.

Erick Russell, a New Haven lawyer and the party endorsed candidate, has also promised to use the office to promote social activism including by divesting from gun manufacturers, developing a plan to move away from fossil fuels, promoting fair labor practices, and advocating against excessive executive compensation.

New Haven housing authority chief, Karen Dubois-Walton, the other Democrat in the race, has highlighted her role as chair of the board of a local family philanthropy where she worked with investment advisors to “ensure responsible growth while guiding the fund toward socially responsive investments.” Her priorities for Treasurer’s Office include stimulating “equitable growth.”