This story was updated with comment from Van Drew campaign manager Ron Filan at 7:54 p.m.
Months before joining President Donald Trump in boosting an untested anti-malarial drug as a treatment for COVID-19, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) received a donation from a prominent GOP donor who heads a firm that sells hydroxychloroquine.
Joe Pizza — the president and CEO of Interchem, a Paramus-based pharmaceutical sales firm that lists hydroxychloroquine among its products — has given nearly $241,000 to Republican campaigns, PACS and other party organizations since the start of 2019, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Interchem has made small political contributions on-and-off for more than 20 years.
A little more than a month after Van Drew defected to the Republican party after losing support among rank and file Democrats over his opposition to impeachment proceedings against Trump, the former Democrat received $500 from Pizza.
For context, Van Drew raised nearly $2.7 million between January 2019 and June 2020. Van Drew campaign manager Ron Filan said he did not believe the congressman ever crossed paths with Pizza.
“Since Congressman Van Drew joined the Republican Party in December, he is honored to have received more than 35,000 online contributions from supporters in all 50 states, and it appears Mr. Pizza, who by all accounts is a big supporter of the President, made an online contribution the day after the President’s Wildwood rally for Van Drew in January, which was long before the pandemic hit,” he said. “I don’t think Mr. Pizza and Congressman Van Drew have ever met, but we appreciate the support and are putting it to use making sure voters know how much Amy Kennedy’s liberal views will hurt South Jersey families.”
Pizza, a colorful renaissance man who has released more than 200 songs under the stage name “Slyce” and runs the production company Sceneworks Studios, has a home located roughly two miles from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, resort.
In her 2014 memoir, Pizza’s wife wrote Trump sang “Happy Birthday” to her at Mar-a-Lago.
While Pizza’s political giving rarely touches New Jersey — apart from the donation to Van Drew, the pharmaceutical executive made only two donations to New Jersey Republicans since the start of last year, one $2,500 donation to former Cresskill Councilman John McCann’s House campaign and one $10,000 donation to the Republican State Committee — he’s given large amounts boosting Trump’s re-election since 2019.
Those donations contributions include $125,000 to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action, $19,384 to the Republican National Committee, $22,500 to Trump’s campaign committee and $5,834 to the president’s joint fundraising committee.
Van Drew, like Trump, has used his platform to boost hydroxychloroquine as a treatment to COVID-19, despite there being no scientific evidence that the anti-malarial was effective in combatting the virus.
“Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin have shown anecdotal evidence that they, if used early enough, have success in combatting the scourge of COVID-19,” Van Drew tweeted on April 1. “I support the usage of these drugs under the correct medical supervision to combat this virus.”
The congressman’s tweet came days after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization allowing COVID-19 patients to be treated with Hydroxychloroquine.
At the time, research on the drug’s efficacy in treating COVID-19 was scarce, though Trump had already touted the drug as a “game changer” during televised virus briefings, though Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, was already issuing warnings that the evidence didn’t support hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Since then, the drug has been abandoned as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. The National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization axed their hydroxychloroquine studies in June, and the FDA rescinded its emergency use authorization for the drug the same month.
Despite Fauci’s warnings, hydroxychloroquine sales saw a massive spike in March and April, with units purchased increasing by 1,253% over the period in 2019, according to drug price forecast released by Vizient Inc., a Texas-based health care performance improvement company.
It’s not clear how much the increased sales benefited Interchem, if they did at all.