An open letter from Attorney General William Tong on his second year in office
This year has been unlike any other. “Unprecedented” barely scrapes the surface of both the tragedy and heroism we have experienced. As we close out 2020, I keep in my thoughts and prayers the families and loved ones of the more than 5,900 Connecticut souls lost to COVID-19 this year. As I treasure the time spent with my family this holiday season, I am endlessly grateful for the doctors, nurses and frontline workers who have fought for months without rest, sacrificing their own health and safety to save the lives of countless others.
Protecting Public Health During the Pandemic
The Office of the Attorney General shifted to telework status in March. From Torts and Employment to Collections/Child Support and Charities, all 311 of our attorneys, paralegals, and support staff in each and every department met this moment with dedication, creativity and flexibility—never wavering in their commitment to the core public service that we perform for the people of Connecticut. While much of our work seamlessly shifted to our home offices, I want to give special recognition to the assistant attorneys general in our Child Protection Department who appeared in court throughout this pandemic to protect our state’s most vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. Our Labor and Worker’s Compensation Department also aided the state’s Department of Labor as they were faced with a deluge of COVID-related unemployment and worker’s compensation claims.
At each step during this crisis, Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut’s leaders followed science and took lawful actions to save lives and curb the spread of this deadly virus. The Governor’s Executive Orders guided our state through the height of this crisis, many of which were drafted with invaluable input from our departments, including Health and Education, Special Litigation, Public Safety, Finance, Collections and Transportation. When various orders were challenged in court, our Health and Education, Special Litigation and Public Safety departments worked in nonstop overdrive to successfully defend our state’s ability to protect Connecticut residents during this pandemic. In case after case, courts sided with us in upholding these core public health measures—rejecting baseless, partisan, and anti-science attacks that sought to remove masks from schools, deny voters the ability to safely cast their ballots, and then tie the hands of our government in enforcing measured and necessary restrictions on certain business activities. These steps required sacrifices large and small from everyone in our state but were no doubt pivotal in saving countless lives.
Our Consumer Protection Department and Consumer Assistance Unit were busier than ever this year assisting nearly 7,000 consumers and securing over $1.5 million in direct refunds and relief for Connecticut residents—a near doubling in their caseload, largely due to COVID-19 consumer needs. Through their diligence and determination, our team negotiated refunds for consumers forced to cancel travel plans, weddings, and other events due to the pandemic.
With Connecticut’s sudden shift to remote school and work, access to safe, reliable heat, hot water and internet became even more essential. We pay far too much for our energy in Connecticut, and our Energy team is fighting in every possible forum—both before the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission—to ensure families stay connected, get the service they deserve and don’t pay a penny more than they need to.
The pandemic brought a deluge of complex, novel legal questions and challenges to just about every one of our departments. It also required us to look beyond our legal practice to leverage our expertise and relationships to help in every way possible. At the beginning of this crisis, as our entire state was scrambling to source personal protective equipment, I was proud to join with Chinese Ambassador Huang Ping, the Consul General in New York, and Fairfield County based Chinese-Americans to facilitate the largest ever shipment of PPE to our state’s frontline first responders and medical personnel.
Firewall for Democracy, Justice, Fairness and Possibility
On January 20, we will have a new President of the United States. A clear majority of Americans cast their ballots in a free and fair election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But even today, mere weeks from an inevitable transition of power, the outgoing president refuses to embrace democracy and reality. Over the past several months, I joined attorneys general across the country confronting Donald Trump’s craven legal strategies. We successfully sued the U.S. Postal Service to challenge the Administration’s efforts to delay the delivery of ballots, we protected voters from intimidation and suppression, and we stood up for election laws across the country. It was particularly disheartening to be drawn into a battle against my own fellow attorneys general who, led by Texas, sought to overturn lawful election results. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with our coalition in rejecting that shameful and seditious attempt at a legal coup.
Connecticut itself was not immune from these political attacks. We successfully defended the Office of the Secretary of the State against multiple partisan suits seeking suppress the vote by creating chaos and confusion around lawful and necessary measures that allowed Connecticut voters to safely cast their ballots during this pandemic.
This year more than ever, our office was the firewall blocking a lawless White House from implementing its partisan and bias-driven agenda—defending immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals, reproductive freedom, and commonsense gun safety among others. These fights are far from over, but we are confident that the new federal administration will turn away from this cruelty and resuscitate the democratic and legal norms—rooted in justice, fairness, and possibility—that have always made our country exceptional.
Confronting Climate Change and Protecting our Environment
In September, we sued ExxonMobil under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act to end its ongoing, systematic campaign of lies and deception that has sought to hide from the public what ExxonMobil has known for decades—that burning fossil fuels undeniably contributes to climate change. We are demanding remediation, restitution, disgorgement of profits, civil penalties, disclosure of climate research, establishment of a third-party controlled education fund and an immediate end to the false and misleading information that ExxonMobil has been disseminating for years. The case is in its earliest stages, but we are confident in our ability to prevail.
Connecticut is an active leader in dozens of multistate battles to defend decades of bedrock environmental law, regulations and precedent that have protected clean air, water, land, and biodiversity. Earlier this year, we won a major multistate court battle to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to hold upwind states accountable for cross-state air pollution. Connecticut sits at the end of the nation’s tailpipe, meaning we are subjected to unhealthy levels of air pollution that we do not create or control. Our Environment Department continues to aggressively monitor this matter to protect the air we breathe.
Our Environment team also scored a major economic victory for Connecticut’s maritime economy this past year in successfully intervening to defend Long Island Sound dredging plans. Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue—including the viability of the New London Submarine Naval Base and Electric Boat—depend on the ability to safely dredge and deposit materials.
Driving Down Drug Prices and Defending Access to Affordable Healthcare
The average American spends approximately $1,200 per year on prescription drugs. Those with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease pay far more. We’re no different here in Connecticut—families struggle to afford their medications, and drug makers get rich. I refuse to accept that. Driving down the price of medicine has been a core focus of this office for many years, and the pandemic has further underscored how critical this work is.
In June, our office led a coalition of 51 states and territories filing the third lawsuit stemming from our antitrust investigation into the widespread conspiracy by generic drug manufacturers to fix prices and illegally restrain competition for hundreds of generic drugs. Our third complaint focused on 80 topical drugs that account for billions of dollars in sales across the nation. Building on work that began during the administration of my predecessor, former Attorney General George Jepsen, our generics team has done a tremendous job leading this complex, national effort.
Our office is also leading a different bipartisan coalition to protect access to affordable prescriptions for low-income patients. We are talking here about lifesaving drugs for diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and more distributed by our community health centers as a result of the 340b Drug Pricing Program. We will not allow Connecticut patients to be the victim of fights between drug companies and federal regulators.
We were also before the U.S. Supreme Court this past year defending protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, healthcare for young adults covered by a parent’s health plan, and the 20 million Americans who have accessed affordable insurance through Medicaid expansion, tax credits, and healthcare exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. We have reason to hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will recognize the lifesaving role that the ACA plays in the lives of millions of Americans and will keep the law intact.
Protecting the Public, Fighting for Consumers, Taking on Big Tech Monopolies
Helping to lead multistate settlements regarding Apple iPhone throttling, Honda airbags, Nationstar mortgages, and data breaches involving Anthem, Home Depot, CafePress and more, our Consumer Protection and Data Privacy attorneys secured significant injunctive relief to protect consumer safety, privacy and security, and brought tens of millions of dollars in fines and penalties back to the state.
We took on some of the world’s largest corporate empires this year to protect consumer safety, privacy and choice. We filed two major anti-trust lawsuits challenging illegal monopolies controlled by tech giants Facebook and Google. In both instances, the companies illegally stifled competition, suppressed innovation, and deprived users of choice and privacy.
Our Government Fraud Department secured strong fines and penalties against multiple medical providers who overbilled public healthcare programs and pocketed public funds they were never due. We worked closely with our partners in the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General/Office of Investigations, the Office of the United States Attorney, and the Department of Social Services Office of Quality Assurance to make clear that our office takes seriously its obligation to safeguard our public healthcare programs.
Holding the Addiction Industry Accountable for the Opioid Epidemic
This year has been pivotal in our fight for justice and accountability against the addiction industry, including Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, and the chain of distributors who recklessly delivered these deadly opioids into our communities. In October, state attorneys general announced a settlement framework with Mallinckrodt, the nation’s largest generic opioid manufacturer. With Mallinckrodt now in bankruptcy, this agreement ensured $1.6 billion will be placed in a trust and used to directly address the pain, suffering and trauma they caused. We are also aggressively engaged in every aspect of Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy proceeding to protect and preserve every possible dollar for addiction science, treatment and recovery in Connecticut. That includes our vocal opposition to the deficient U.S. Department of Justice settlement with Purdue—a mere mirage of justice for the victims of Purdue’s callous misconduct. Instead of putting the Sackler’s in jail, the DOJ took fines and penalties that Purdue will never fully pay, diverting potential funds due to states with the expertise and access to truly fight this epidemic. At the same time, we are actively pursuing and investigating claims against our country’s largest pharmaceutical distributors who flooded states like Connecticut with mountains of powerfully addictive painkillers that they knew far exceeded legitimate prescriptions. Our opioids team is at the center of these complex and contentious national negotiations to ensure every possible dollar and the maximum measure of accountability is extracted from the callous individuals and corporations who profited from the death and devastation of thousands of Connecticut victims.
The Office of the Attorney General is Here to Help
Wherever we are working, the Office of the Attorney General is taking calls, emails and letters from constituents in need of assistance. From helping seniors targeted by scams to recouping funds from unscrupulous home improvement contractors, we are here to help. Whether you have been a victim of a scam, are having trouble with a medical bill or insurance, can’t figure out your student loan repayment options, or have an issue with your landlord please reach out to our office at 860-808-5420 or by email at [email protected].