Democratic congressional candidate Will Cunningham has slammed rival Amy Kennedy for her ties to a non-profit group run by her husband that took money from opioid manufacturers and addiction treatment centers.
Cunningham has been pushing a two-year-old POLITICO story that The Kennedy Forum, a behavioral health advocacy organization led by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island), served on the boards of several private companies with high stakes in the Trump administration’s effort to tackle the opioid crisis.
“I think it’s something folks should know. It’s incredibly problematic,” said Cunningham, a former chief investigator for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “What we’ve seen with that story in particular was a D.C. news story that didn’t make it to New Jersey.”
Amy Kennedy served as education director of The Kennedy Forum, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that her husband formed seven years ago after battling addiction and mental health issues.
Patrick Kennedy was paid an annual salary of $536,397, according to Internal Revenue Service filings for tax-exempt organizations, but a spokesperson said that Amy Kennedy did not accept a salary.
According to the most recent publicly available IRS filing in 2018, The Kennedy Forum raised about $2.8 million and spent nearly one-third of the funds on salaries – more than double the recommended guidelines for non-profit organizations.
Cunningham took aim The Kennedy Forum for not releasing their donors, suggesting that the issue could hurt Kennedy’s credibility in a general election against the incumbent, Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-Dennis).
“It is an issue when you come out with an ethics plan, call out George Norcross, but didn’t disclose their own donors,” Cunningham told the New Jersey Globe. “Amy Kennedy released an ethics plan, that was point blank counter to her and her husband’s personal profit.”
The former congressional aide pledged to keep the heat on Kennedy.
“Anytime I see hypocrisy, I’m going to call it out,” Cunningham said. “It’s what it looks like when a D.C. insider runs for office. You can use the name for good and you can use the name for self-profit.”
Kennedy pushed back on Cunningham’s criticism.
“I’m so proud of the work the Kennedy Forum does to hold drug companies accountable and to end the mental health and addiction epidemic in America. Long before any Attorney General went after Pharma to pay for the opioid crisis, the Kennedy Forum was pressuring drug companies to use their vast profits to help fix the problems we all knew they created,” Kennedy said. “This work is personal to me as mental health addiction and recovery issues impact almost American family– including my own.”
The move to make the Kennedy family non-profit an issue in the hotly contested Democratic primary for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district comes just days before the Atlantic County Democratic convention.
Cunningham and Kennedy are both seeking the organization line in Atlantic, along with political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison, Atlantic County freeholder Ashley Bennett, West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III, and retired FBI agent Robert Turkavage.
The Kennedy campaign rejected Cunningham’s tactics.
“We’re always happy to talk about the important work of the Kennedy Forum, but as someone who worked in Congress, Will knows as well as anyone of the Kennedy family leadership on mental health and addiction issues,” said Christy Setzer, a spokesperson for Amy Kennedy. “Sounds like Amy’s opponents must be getting pretty desperate to engage in this smear campaign just days before the Atlantic county convention.”