A drug industry-backed group opposing a fall ballot issue to cap the price of prescription drugs was accused Wednesday of illegally failing to disclose its “dark-money” donors.
Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, which led the campaign to place the measure on the ballot, filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission asking that the Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue be forced to disclose the identity of its donors.
The opponents of the ballot issue formed a nonprofit to accept and forward $15.8 million in contributions, submitting a campaign finance report Monday listing its only donor as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association representing drug makers. The group also is named as defendant in the complaint.
“The complaint alleges this is an illegal scheme created for the sole purpose of avoiding Ohio’s campaign disclosure laws which are intended to shine light on contributors to both ballot issues and candidates,” said Donald McTigue, a lawyer representing the supporters of Issue 2.
In a statement, Tracy Jones, an Issue 2 supporter who filed the complaint, said, “The drug companies think they are above the law, but they are not. Just like every other candidate and issue campaign who filed a campaign finance report, the drug companies must reveal themselves to Ohio voters, along with the exact amount they are spending on their secret campaign against Issue 2.”
Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue spokesman Dale Butland said the group is complying with campaign finance disclosure laws and has made no secret of where its money is coming from: the pharmaceutical industry.
“This baseless complaint is a ‘Wag the Dog’ tactic,” Butland said in reference to a movie in which a fictional president starts a war to divert attention from his personal problems. “It is designed to divert attention from their own deeply flawed ballot proposal and somehow breathe life into a campaign that is clearly failing.”
The complaint asks the Elections Commission to order the disclosure of a complete list of donors and the amounts contributed to purchase the TV commercials that have flooded Ohio for weeks.
“The only reason the no-side’s financial heavyweights want their involvement kept secret is because they know it’s terrible publicity for them to have their names associated with spending millions of dollars to attack Issue 2, a measure put on the ballot by nearly 200,000 Ohio voters to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors against drug industry price gouging,” said pro-Issue 2 spokesman Dennis Willard.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation of Los Angeles contributed nearly all the $3.6 million given to the pro-Issue 2 campaign. The foundation money comes from operating funds and donations to the organization, which were not disclosed in its campaign finance filing.
Backers say voter approval of Issue 2 would require the state and various entities to pay no more for prescription drugs than the cost paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a savings reportedly of 20 percent to 40 percent. They say it would impact 4 million Ohioans, including 164,000 children, and save taxpayers $400 million annually.
Opponents counter that the proposal is unworkable, that the state already receives discounted prices and that it could result in higher prices and limited availability of drugs.