Democrats are quietly cutting ties with megadonor Martin Elling, a fallen McKinsey & Company star embroiled in an opioid drug consulting scandal

  • Martin Elling reportedly helped lead McKinsey’s effort to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin.
  • Elling has spread almost $2 million among Democrats over two decades.
  • Most Democratic committees wouldn’t respond to Insider’s questions about Elling.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Prominent Democratic political committees are quietly exiling embattled megadonor Martin Elling, two party operatives confirmed to Insider. 

The reason: Elling’s leading role in a massive opioid drug scandal that’s throttled his former employer, consulting giant McKinsey & Company, and coincided with his firing.

“He’s cut off,” said one of the Democratic operatives, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person isn’t authorized to speak on the record.  

During the past two decades, Elling has spread nearly $2 million among dozens of federal-level political committees, almost all Democratic. The political committees of President Joe Biden and dozens of US Senate and House candidates have benefited from Elling’s contributions.

Elling, a former McKinsey & Company partner, is at the center of the firm’s opioid consulting scandal that resulted in a nearly $600 million settlement last week with attorneys general in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and five US territories.

The New York Times last year reported that Elling had helped lead McKinsey’s effort to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin, an opioid drug marketed by client Purdue Pharma. It further reported that Elling suggested to a colleague that he destroy records that might implicate him in the opioid sales push.   

From 1999 to 2018, nearly 450,000 people died from opioid overdoses, including prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

McKinsey spokesperson DJ Carella declined to answer questions about Elling, but confirmed to Insider that the company had “terminated” Elling’s employment. In December, McKinsey issued a statement that acknowledged “a responsibility to take into account the broader context and implications of the work that we do. Our work for Purdue fell short of that standard.”

In federal filings late last year, Elling most recently listed his home address in New York City. For many years, Elling worked out of McKinsey’s New Jersey office. At some point in 2020, the company’s website changed to indicate Elling worked from its Bangkok office. 

His company bio stated “he is known for his creative growth ideas, ability to galvanize organizations behind growth strategies and performance transformations, and passion for bringing the best of McKinsey to solve his clients’ most pressing issues.”

In a paper Elling co-wrote in 2017 titled “Innovating at the speed of the 21st century in pharmaceuticals,” he stated: “[T]he gains for winners are bigger than ever, and so too will be the downside for those who lose.”

According to Elling’s LinkedIn bio, he earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1992 and joined McKinsey in 1998.

Elling could not be reached for comment by email and LinkedIn messages. 

Democrats loath to talk about Elling

Elling is the latest example of top-tier political bankrollers who suddenly became liabilities to the recipients of their patronage. That list includes Democrats Harvey Weinstein and Ed Buck, as well as Republicans Steve Wynn and John Childs.

But as Democrats banish Elling, they’re loath to publicly speak of it.

White House spokesperson Michael Gwin declined to comment on Elling, who contributed $50,000 to the Biden Victory Fund joint fundraising committee in July, according to Federal Election Commission records. 

More than a dozen other Democratic political committees and officials to whom Elling gave four- or five-figure contributions during the 2019-2020 election cycle did not respond this week to repeated Insider inquiries.

They include the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the campaigns of Sens. Rafael Warnock of Georgia, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Mark Kelly of Arizona. 

Fair Fight, a political organization led by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that Elling last year gave $10,000, also did not respond to inquiries. 

A spokesperson for New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat to whom Elling donated $4,300 in 2017, directed questions to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. It did not reply to Insider’s inquiries. The Texas Democratic Party also didn’t reply to questions about the more than $2,500 it received in July from Elling.

 

What’s the ‘value of the headache’?

Democratic political committees that have received money from Elling have several options for the cash: issue a refund, donate it to charity, or forfeit it to the US Treasury’s general fund.

They can also do nothing and hope their political rivals don’t use Elling’s misfortunes as a bludgeon — negative advertisements, scathing press releases — against them.

But that’s a risky proposition for political candidates, said Nick Daggers, a partner at the 1833 Group, an Illinois-based fundraising firm that contracts with dozens of state- and federal-level Democratic political committees.

“You have to ask yourself: What’s the value of the headache?” Daggers said. “In this case, I’d probably find someone to donate the money to, such as an addiction recovery service.”

A pair of nonpartisan political watchdogs advised recent recipients of Elling’s cash to divest of it immediately.

“Every candidate, party and committee should remove themselves from Elling’s influence-peddling scheme by giving Elling’s campaign contributions to those trying to heal the opioid crisis damage,” said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen. 

“They should be tripping over themselves to get rid of this money,” said Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause. She advocated for Congress passing laws that would reduce the political influence of big-dollar donors in general.

The Republican National Committee did not respond to requests for comment about Elling or its own relationships with troubled megadonors.

Democrats have criticized the RNC for not ditching donations from Wynn. The billionaire casino CEO faces allegations of rape and sexual assault but has denied wrongdoing. Wynn continued contributing millions of dollars to Republican causes during the 2020 election.

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