'Dark money' and drugs: Ohio pricing activists cry foul over secret donors

Drug pricing will be on the ballot this fall in Ohio, with proponents recently crying foul about "dark money" in politics.

Last year, California voters rejected a ballot measure that proposed limiting the state’s drug prices to those paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A similar campaign is underway in Ohio, recently spawning allegations of “dark money” from the drug industry in politics.

Late last week, a group pushing the Ohio measure called Yes on Issue 2 filed a complaint alleging that drugmakers used confidential contributions “to mislead and lie to voters” in an attempt to defeat the ballot proposal. The action followed a Columbus Dispatch report that Amgen and Biogen voluntarily disclosed contributing $7.7 million to a PhRMA-founded limited liability corporation (LLC) fighting the measure. PhRMA itself did not disclose which companies contributed to the Ohio fight, according to the publication.

Such LLCs don’t have to disclose contributions, according to the Dispatch. A PhRMA spokesperson told the newspaper the LLC is merely “a way to provide specific money for a specific state campaign,” adding that the industry lobbying outfit didn’t create the corporation to hide money.

RELATED: With Prop 61's defeat, drug-pricing foes can forget state-level action

The group pushing the ballot measure says those contributions were illegal, a stance that’s getting pushback from Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue. In a statement, the communications director for that group, Dale Butland, said that the proponents filed a “baseless complaint to try to breathe life back into a campaign that is clearly failing.”

Butland said his organization has “been 100% upfront” about its funding, adding that the Ohio secretary of state “confirmed that our filings comply with Ohio law.”

RELATED: Big Pharma teams up to defeat drug pricing proposal in California

California voters rejected a similar proposal last year despite support from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The result was a significant victory for the drug industry, as many in the business worried that similar pricing restrictions would spread around the country if successful in the state.

The Dispatch recently wrote a pair of editorials on the Ohio issue, one labeling the proposal “dangerous” and another calling for more transparency in campaign financing.

As Congress has demonstrated an inability to address drug pricing, dozens of state lawmakers have been taking the issue into their own hands in recent months. For instance, Nevada and Maryland recently passed bills aimed at the diabetes and generics businesses, respectively.