Absence of transparency should give voters pause

Secrecy is the hallmark of the pharmaceutical industry, which is why we aren’t surprised by the lack of full disclosure about who’s funding the hard-hitting campaign against a state issue that aims to lower some drug prices.

Big Pharma is spending millions of dollars to defeat State Issue 2 that will appear on the November general election ballot. If approved by the voters, the Ohio Drug Price Relief Act would result in state government agencies being able to buy prescription drugs at prices no higher than what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays. The VA receives a federally mandated discount of about 24 percent on prescription drugs.

Proponents and opponents of the citizen-initiated statute have pulled out all the stops in their effort to sway Ohioans. There have been claims and counterclaims about the effects of the statute, especially with regard to the economic ramifications. We’re left to wonder who’s telling the truth.

A few weeks ago, we called for an independent evaluation of the issue because of the deep pockets that are financing the campaigns.

Ohio Taxpayers For Lower Drug Prices is leading the charge for passage of Issue 2 and is sponsored by the California-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The $800 million foundation is presided over by Californian Michael Weinstein.

The opposition, led by Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, is being funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

This is a high-stakes game.

We thus renew our call for an objective review of the arguments put forth by both sides and for a financial analysis to determine if the claims of savings or increased drug costs are legitimate.

And now we demand truth in advertising, which means making public all the financial contributors involved in each side.

Campaign finance report

Our concerns about the money that’s pouring into the state are triggered by a couple of stories in the Columbus Dispatch that blew the lid off a campaign finance report filed recently.

According to the Dispatch, members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), an association of drug makers, has kicked in $15.8 million. However, only two companies voluntarily disclosed their contributions that totaled about $7 million.

The companies are Amgen Inc., headquartered in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Biogen Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

More than 30 drug companies belong to the association, which means they’re all involved in the battle against State Issue 2.

Dale Butland, spokesman for the opposition, has publicly acknowledged that the pharmaceutical industry is financing the effort.

“PhRMA gets its money from its member companies,” Butland said. “ ... We’ve been totally open about the fact that PhRMA, the trade association for the pharmaceutical industry, is funding this campaign.”

That’s all well and good, but why the refusal to come clean with the identities of the companies, and how much money they’ve given to defeat State Issue 2?

It’s a question that goes to the heart of our long-held belief that public policy should be developed in the bright light of the day.

The finance report filed by the opposition to Issue 2 has triggered two complaints filed with the Ohio Elections Commission by the proponents. The complaints seek full disclosure of the names of the drug companies financing the campaign.

As we noted in a recent editorial, Big Pharma isn’t involved in the battle against Issue 2 because it has suddenly become altruistic.

The truth of the matter is the industry is worried that passage of State Issue 2 will open the floodgates to other such initiatives across the country.

Big Pharma has succeeded in blocking the Republican-controlled Congress from taking any action to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

It has even distracted President Donald J. Trump from making good on a campaign promise to deal with the skyrocketing prices.

Ohio voters have a right to all the information pertaining to the drug-cost state issue, which is why any refusal to identify the financial contributors to both campaigns is not only unacceptable, but suspicious.

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