By Dan Morain
Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2005
SACRAMENTO — The nation's drug makers have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political leaders and civil rights groups that have endorsed the industry's initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The measure, Proposition 78, would avert state caps on the price of prescription drugs. Those embracing it while taking the industry's money include the conservative Traditional Values Coalition, an emergency-room physician in Los Angeles, the California arm of the NAACP and the Mexican American Political Assn.
The drug industry's campaign also has given $100,000 to Voter Education and Registration Action, a campaign committee that has distributed mailers supporting the drug industry's position.
State Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) helped create Voter Education, and his campaign office shares an address and phone number with it. He is one of 12 statewide campaign co-chairs.
Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause in Washington, D.C., said campaigns that pay for endorsements give voters the false impression that they have more support than they do.
"It is very deceptive," Boyle said, calling the practice akin to "buying access and influence."
It is not clear from disclosure records how the money has been used by recipients. But the records show that some of it covered mailings and consultants' profits.
The drug manufacturers have spent about $76 million so far in favor of Proposition 78 and against Proposition 79, a competing measure pushed by organized labor and some consumer groups.
The pharmaceutical industry is airing television ads emphasizing the large number of organizations and public figures embracing its position.
"The list of groups saying Yes to 78 grows bigger every day," says an ad airing across California. The spot does not disclose that many endorsers have received payments.
Jose Hermacillo, spokesman for the drug industry's campaign, said that although the Yes on 78-No on 79 effort has reimbursed supporters for expenses, it is not purchasing endorsements.
"The people who have signed on have done so based on the policy differences between the two measures," Hermacillo said.
Proposition 78 would establish a program in which drug companies could voluntarily offer discounted medicines to about 6 million low-income Californians.
Proposition 79, which promises to reach as many as 10 million, would penalize companies that don't offer discounts and allow lawsuits against firms deemed to be charging too much.
The Yes on 79 campaign reports having spent $503,000.
Well-heeled campaigns have always bought space on mailed brochures. Some have paid people who offered testimonials.
But the campaign led by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn. and funded by the nation's biggest drug manufacturers is pushing the practice to new levels.
"They are clearly going beyond the traditional TV, radio and slate mailers," said Robert M. Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, which has joined with the California Healthcare Foundation to analyze the Proposition 78 and 79 efforts. "The question is, are endorsements up for sale or are the endorsements coming first? … We won't know the answer."
Although paid endorsements are not uncommon, they're not universal. The national office of Common Cause and a newer group, TheRestofUs.org, have endorsed Proposition 77, which would strip legislators of their power to draw legislative and congressional boundaries and turn the job over to retired judges. Neither group has received payments from the Yes on 77 campaign, which has raised $10 million.
"Not a penny," said Ned Wigglesworth, spokesman for TheRestofUs. "We believe people should take positions based on a principled stand, rather than who is willing to give money."
Sacramento political consultant Alice A. Huffman's firm, A.C. Public Affairs, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the drug industry-backed campaign's largess, receiving $720,000 since July, including $400,000 for the cost of a mailer.
Huffman is also president of the California State Conference of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. In her role as a consultant, Huffman said, she tries "not to take any campaign that would be bad for the community or for the NAACP."
Her chapter and some local affiliates have endorsed the drug industry's position, a fact trumpeted in Yes on 78 campaign literature. The local affiliates have received payments of $2,500 to $5,000, campaign finance reports show.
Huffman said the money her firm received played no role in the NAACP's endorsement. Rather, she is convinced that Proposition 79 could harm low-income people by denying medication that they currently receive through the state Medi-Cal system if the manufacturer declines to reduce the price.
"Labor overreached," said Huffman, a former organized labor lobbyist. "My job is not to be in labor's pocket."
Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) criticized the NAACP's position.
Noting that the group long has been an "advocate on behalf of the disenfranchised or the medically underserved," Ridley-Thomas said the state NAACP's stand is "contrary to the interests of its constituency."
"It is practically inconceivable to me that the NAACP would be twisted on an issue as fundamental as this," Ridley-Thomas said. "What's at stake is the credibility of the organization."
Dymally said the decision of Voter Education and Registration Action to embrace Proposition 78 was based in part on "solidarity with the NAACP."
Voter Education has published a newsletter that includes a lengthy statement by Huffman embracing Proposition 78 and denouncing Proposition 79.
Dymally said he does not "necessarily" control Voter Education.
He added that though the drug company campaign paid Voter Education $100,000, he received no money personally.
"Absolutely not one penny have I received. Neither will I take a penny from them," Dymally said.
Those who received drug industry money include:
• Former Assemblywoman Gwen Moore, who represented Culver City for 16 years. She sent a mailer urging a "yes" vote on Proposition 78 and a "no" on Proposition 79. Moore's consulting firm received $50,000 from the drug company campaign, according to campaign reports filed with the state.
• The Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the conservative Traditional Values Coalition. He is distributing literature in churches that suggests voters say "yes" on Proposition 78 and "no" on 79. Sheldon's Traditional Values Coalition received $30,000 from the drug companies' campaign, records show. His literature does not report that.
• Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an emergency room physician in Los Angeles. She received $30,000 as a consultant to the campaign. Taylor worked to recruit other doctors to support Proposition 78 and oppose 79, said Denise Davis, spokeswoman for the Yes on 78 campaign.
• Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Assn. He sent letters to prominent Latinos in late October asking them to support Proposition 78. The letters do not note that MAPA has taken $20,000 from the drug companies, according to the Yes on 78 campaign.
Lopez, Taylor, Sheldon and Moore did not return phone calls from The Times.
Assemblyman Dario Frommer (D-Glendale), who tangled with the drug industry this year when he carried legislation that ultimately formed the basis of Proposition 79, called Lopez's endorsement "at odds with MAPA's long record of advocacy." Lopez has been a liberal voice on such issues as driver's licenses for illegal immigrants and better cross-border relations.
Frommer said low-income Latinos, many of whom lack health insurance, would not benefit from Proposition 78.
"If you're down with the community," Frommer said, "you wouldn't be endorsing 78."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Voters' mailboxes are filling with literature from the drug companies' joint campaign for Proposition 78 and against Proposition 79. Here is what that campaign paid to some individuals and groups listed as supporters in some of these "slate" mailers:
• COPS, California Organization of Police and Sheriffs: $200,000
• Black Women's Guide: $50,000
• Coalition for Senior Housing: $48,845
• Council of Concerned Women: $37,804
• Our Voice Latino Voter Guide: $22,910
Source: California secretary of state,
campaign finance reports
Los Angeles Times