Issue 2 supporters criticize lack of details on opponents' campaign finance report

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The backers of Issue 2, a ballot measure that aims to lower the state’s cost of prescription drug purchases, have criticized the campaign finance report from the opposition for its lack of details.

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, which is proposing the new law to require the state pay no more for drugs than the U.S. Veterans Administration for Ohio programs such as Medicaid, objects to Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue’s campaign finance report filed Monday.

The backer’s campaign’s spokesman, Dennis Willard, said it will file a complaint with the state and attorneys are exploring other legal avenues to file a complaint. 

The opposition’s report only showed three contributions totaling $15.8 million — all coming from a limited liability corporation to which the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, donates. The LLC then donates the money to a political action committee to support the opposition’s campaign.

But it’s not unheard of for corporations to write large checks to a ballot measure, said Phil Richter, executive director of the Ohio Elections Commission.

“Corporations have the ability to make contributions,” Richter said. “Anybody has the ability to make contributions to a ballot issue committee. There are no limitations such as (for candidate committees.)”

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices had not filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission as of Tuesday afternoon, he said.

“It is appropriate to question the nature of the contribution, sure, but that doesn’t make it improper or illegal.”

The contentious ballot issue could be one of the costliest in Ohio history. 

How supporters criticize opponents 

Willard, the spokesman for Issue 2’s supporters, said it’s unclear from the filing which pharmaceutical companies are members of PhRMA and how much each contributed to the political action committee that is behind Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue.

“Ohioans deserve to know who’s behind the campaign to defeat Issue 2 just like they now know who’s contributing money to the candidates for governor, attorney general, for state legislative seats,” Willard said. “Everyone else is playing by the rules – but not the opponents of Issue 2. It’s unfair to Ohioans for the Issue 2 opponents to play this shell game.”

What opponents have to say

But Dale Butland, spokesman for the opposition campaign, disagrees. Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue has always been transparent about the source of its money, he said.

“I don’t think people are particularly interested” in which companies have donated to the campaign, he said. “As long as we’re open and above board about where we’re getting our money, which is from the pharmaceutical industry, people are satisfied.”

Butland, who said he doesn’t know specifics about company donations to the LLC, also said PhRMA’s members are easily accessible online. Indeed, the trade group lists AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Pfizer among some three dozen members.

Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices filed a report showing all contributors. All but $151 came from the AIDS Health Care Foundation, based in Los Angeles. A similar measure failed in California last year.

Supporters say taxpayers will save $400 million a year under Issue 2. Opponents question the figure and caution that Ohioans with private insurance may have to pay more for prescriptions if Issue 2 passes.

While opponents tout a broad coalition to fight Issue 2 – from medical professionals to business groups – PhRMA was the only member to write checks to its campaign. 

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