It remains unclear why Richard H. Roberts, a New Jersey physician, contributed $1 million to help one member of Congress in south Florida, freshman Republican Allen West, win reelection.
Reached at his home last week, the main funder of a super PAC that has become the largest outside spender against West's Democratic opponent, construction executive Patrick Murphy, in one of the most closely-watched House races in the country, said he has retired from the pharmaceutical firm that he identified himself as heading in campaign finance forms. But he would say little else.
"I generally don't talk to press," Roberts told Sunlight.
He is the main donor behind the Treasure Coast Jobs Coalition, a new super PAC that only started spending in September and registered with the Federal Election Commission in July. Nearly all of the super PAC's $1.1 million in funds have come from Roberts, according to the group's first report disclosing donors last week. The PAC launched TV ads and mailers in the West-Murphy race, one of most expensive and competitive in the country. Political analyst Charlie Cook lists it as too close to call.
In all, Roberts has given about $2.5 million to super PACs: $1.25 million to Restore Our Future, $1 million to Treasure Coast Jobs and $250,000 to American Crossroads, according to Sunlight's outside money tracker, Follow the Unlimited Money.
Roberts was the president, CEO and chairman of Philadelphia-based URL Pharmacy from 1997 until July 2 of this year, soon after the Japanese pharamaceutical company Takeda bought it the month before for $800 million. Then he became an advisor to URL leadership before leaving by the end of August, said Elissa Johnsen, a spokesperson for Takeda.
However, Roberts still identified himself in late September campaign finance reports as an employee of Mutual Pharmacy, which is part of URL Pharma. For September donations to Treasure Coast Jobs and to the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future, Roberts called himself a "senior advisor" to Mutual. For his most recent disclosed donation — a Sept. 19 contribution to the GOP-aligned super PAC American Crossroads — he called himself the CEO of Mutual.
Roberts joined URL, his family's company, in 1988. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2003 that he spent most of his time figuring out which brand-name drugs to undercut; its strategy included challenging brand name companies' patents in court. Roberts told the paper, "The political and economic winds of change are behind the generic-drug industry's sails now. With the advent of managed health care, and large powerful corporations now paying for the prescriptions for their employees or their customers, the whole tide has come now in favor of generics."
More recently, however, URL embarked on a seemingly opposite strategy: By successfully gaining FDA approval for its brand-name gout treatment drug, Colcrys, it ousted other generic gout drugs from the market. In 2009, the drug was granted three years of market exclusivity and URL raised the pill's price from 9 cents to $5, "causing a furor in the medical community," the Inquirer reported. Kaiser Health News reported in 2010 that some patients were having trouble finding an affordable version of the drug. But it was good news for URL: Net sales of Colcrys were more than $430 million in 2011.
Roberts defended the plan to Kaiser Health News at the time. "Four years ago we decided to join the FDA in this effort…We are focusing on a few unapproved products where there are significant safety and medical issues, applying a lot of science and creativity to bring them into compliance and make them safer," he said at the time.