COLUMBUS - Who donated $15.8 million in hopes of killing an Ohio ballot initiative limiting drug pricing?
We'll likely never know. Drug companies used a nonprofit to shield those details.
All $15.8 million donated this year to the campaign against Issue 2 came from "Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue LLC (A wholly-owned subsidiary of PhRMA)." That's a 501(c)(6) nonprofit created May 1. Unlike candidates, ballot issue campaigns don't have to follow contribution limits, so each contribution exceeded $4.5 million – legally.
"It’s a two-step dance of campaign finance," said Catherine Turcer, a policy analyst for Common Cause Ohio. Donors give money to a nonprofit, without having to disclose their names, and the nonprofit then contributes to a campaign.
The practice is legal, according to the Ohio secretary of state's office. State law doesn't restrict donations by specific tax designations such as 501(c)(6)s, spokesman Sam Rossi said.
Issue 2, which is on Ohio's Nov. 7 ballot, would prevent Ohio from paying more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Veterans Administration pays, such as for Medicaid members.
It's no secret that the group opposing Issue 2 is bankrolled by pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) signed off on the nonprofit and donated more than $421,000 in consulting and other services. Drug companies spent $109 million to defeat a similar initiative in California.
"We’ve said from the start that our campaign was primarily being funded by the pharmaceutical companies," said Dale Butland, spokesman for Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue. All donors are members of PhRMA, which are listed on its website, Butland said. But the campaign doesn't know which companies donated and how much.
Supporters of the effort to limit drug prices say drug companies are hiding from voters.
"If the veil of secrecy were lifted what Ohioans would learn is that all the big name drug companies are financing the fight to defeat Issue 2," said Dennis Willard, a spokesman for Yes on Issue 2.
Those who support the ballot initiative were outraised more than 4-to-1. Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices raised about $3.7 million during the first six months of 2017, but spent nearly all of it. All but $151 was donated by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which bankrolled the unsuccessful California initiative.