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Drug Companies Spend a Record Amount to Defeat Issue 2

Statehouse News Bureau

The amount of money being spent by drug companies to defeat Issue 2, the so-called Drug Price Relief Act, has broken the state's record for the most spent for a ballot issue. Backers of that plan have brought in about $14 million so far, but the drug company-funded campaign to defeat Issue 2 has raised $58 million. 

Issue 2 would set drug prices for Medicaid and other state-run programs at what the federal Veterans Administration pays. The $58 million raised by the "No on Issue 2" side beats the previous record of $47.1 million set in 2009, when casino supporters convinced Ohio voters to allow gambling in the Buckeye State.

That huge amount opposing the prescription-drug amendment came from six contributions from drug companies. Backers of Issue 2 have raised about $14 million -- a quarter of what the drug companies have.

University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven describes the battle this way.

“It’s Santa Claus versus the Grinch, and the pharmaceutical companies are the Grinch.”

Issue 2's supporters say it will save the state about $400 million, but those who are opposed say the issue is unworkable and could mean price increases. Niven says drug companies are spending record amounts of money to defeat this issue because they want to kill attempts like this in other states in the future.

“Why spend $58 million unless this issue will cut into the drug companies’ bottom line? Why spend $58 million unless this represents a threat to the way they do business, which is to really set a price at any level they choose and then to raise it from there?

"I mean this is really a classic vote between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. The devil you know is the pharmaceutical companies and you know what they represent and what they want. The devil you don’t is what are the details and how would this actually work?”

A threat by big pharma
Niven says for most Ohio voters, that’s an uncomfortable and difficult question.

Case Western Reserve University political science professor Joe White agrees this issue isn't easily understood by most voters. And he says the message being conveyed in the ads against Issue 2 makes it more challenging to figure out.

“The argument is if we cannot charge Medicaid and other state programs as much, we are just going to have to charge you and your insurance or the veterans or the V.A. more. And so it’s basically: If you do this to us, we will just take it back out of you. It’s a threat.”

White says money isn’t the only thing drug companies are using in their fight against Issue 2.

“The advantage the drug companies have is not just how much money they can spend but is really the amount of endorsements they have from other, somewhat more credible politically organizations like the doctors and the nurses and the veterans. And they’ve spent a lot of money to publicize that support.”

A confusing issue
Both White and Niven say the issue itself is confusing. And the campaigns make it more confusing. Conventional wisdom is when voters are confused, they tend to vote “no" or not vote at all.

Friday's campaign reports only show money raised and spent through mid-October, so these record amounts raised and spent will only get bigger.

Another statewide issue on the Nov. 7 ballot is a crime victims' rights Constitutional amendment. The group supporting Issue 1 has raised just under $6 million and has spent close to $5.5 million. While the issue has critics, it has no organized opposition raising money or running ads. 

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.