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Proponent of Failed California Ballot Measure Tries Again With Ohio Drug Price Act

A year after California voters rejected a proposal to lower prescription drug prices, Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles, is trying again in Ohio.

Now, he is leading a drive in the Buckeye State for approval of a November ballot proposition, Issue 2, that Weinstein promises would force drug companies to cut prices.

“This is a long-term battle for us. We’ve been fighting for clean needles for more than 25 years. We’ve been fighting for lower drug prices for more than 15 years,” Weinstein told Ohio reporters.

Weinstein sees this as a David vs. Goliath political battle and, of course, Weinstein portrays his side as the “David” of the struggle.

“They’re going to spend as much money as it takes.…It seems to be on pace to be about $50 million,” Weinstein told Ohio reporters in a late September conference call.

The Ohio Drug Price Act would stop state government from paying more for prescription drugs than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays either through direct purchases made by state officials or through purchases made by programs funded by the federal department.

California voters rejected the same proposal — Proposition 61 on their November 2016 ballots — by a 54-46 percent margin. The Los Angeles Times reported groups opposed to Weinstein’s initiative raised $109 million to defeat the measure. Proposition 61 backers raised $19 million.

“Money makes a difference, particularly in ballot measure campaigns when you can’t look at a living, breathing candidate to evaluate them,” Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and the president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, told the Sacramento Bee. “You’re going more on advertisements, mailers and information put out by the campaigns.”

Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Weinstein’s Proposition 61 campaign in California, told the Bee there was no doubt in his mind that money made the difference.

“If we had $20 million and they had $20 million, we would have won this thing,” Salazar said. “When you get outspent by $100 million, it’s hard to get your message across and counter the misinformation they put out so freely.”

But the deep pockets of prescription drug companies weren’t Weinstein’s only California problem. Even though he runs the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in L.A. — and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign by Weinstein’s side — some AIDS activists came out against Proposition 61.

The New York Times reported some California AIDS activists were worried that Proposition 61 would wind up cutting off money that drug companies were spending on research and development of drugs. Others were afraid pharmaceutical companies would just raise prices that the Department of Veterans Affairs was paying.

“To his many critics in AIDS activism, Weinstein is the Koch brothers of public health: a mastermind driven by ideology, accountable to no one, with bottomless funds and an agenda marked by financial opportunism and puritanical extremes,” the Times also reported.