I'll be accused of being a partisan Democrat (read this AM's Fizz to dispel that notion), but today's NYT investigative piece about undue corporate influence over attorneys general nationwide overplayed its hand when it came to Washington AG Bob Ferguson .
The article says 33 state AGs were investigating energy drink company 5-Hour Energy for deceptive marketing, and that Washington State AG Bob Ferguson was one of those AGs, and that he simultaneously placed a strong-arm call to 5-Hour asking for a campaign contribution.
But the article never finishes the story. For example, what became of the investigation into 5-Hour Energy?
Did AG Ferguson take the money and drop his inquiry?; the article implies as much. The NYT quotes the company calling Ferguson's fundraising call "ransom." Their storyline ends there.
We asked Ferguson what became of the investigation. In other words, did the gift end his investigation. The NYT simply says three states ended up suing 5-Hour in July, but they don't say which states. It turns out Ferguson was one of the three AGs that went ahead and actually sued 5-Hour Energy. I guess that didn't fit their storyline?
And something else the NYT failed to report: Ferguson returned the money.
Ferguson admits he made the fundraising call, and that it was an error. "I don't want to be calling companies that I'm investigating and asking for campaign contributions," he acknowledges.
But, he adds some context that's not in the NYT piece. The company he called—he was holding a fundraiser for his 2016 reelection and looking for sponsors— was actually ETC Capital, which is owned by the CEO of 5-Hour Energy, Manoj Bhargava. At the end of the call, Ferguson reports, the ETC rep asked if 5-Hour Energy could be listed as the sponsor instead of ETC. Ferguson, failing to remember the brand ("We're investigating hundreds of companies at any time"), said that was fine. He admits now: "I should have realized or remembered that they were under investigation."
Ferguson is one of just three AGs that actually went ahead and sued 5-Hour Energy.
However, when Ferguson sued 5-Hour in July of this year, he returned the $1,000 check. He adds that he recently (in the last six weeks) returned a check from Johnson & Johnson, a company the state is also investigating. (True. PDC records show Ferguson returned a $500 check to Johnson & Johnson in August).
The NYT also catches Ferguson parrotting a T-Mobile talking points (via T-Mobile lobbyist and former Washington state AG Rob McKenna) in a letter to the feds asking them to allow T-Mobile to compete for available wireless spectrum.
Ferguson tells PubliCola that his anti-trust team reviewed the letter and that "looking at it carefully through the lens of Washington state consumers" he agreed with T-Mobile's position because he was for more competition.
To dispel the notion that he was doing McKenna and hometown favorite T-Mobile's bidding, Ferguson points out that he sued T-Mobile in 2013 for deceptive advertising.