Two sides are battling over an issue on this fall’s ballot that attempts to lower the costs of prescription drugs. As expected big drug companies have landed right in the middle of the fight. But exactly who is funding that side remains a big question mark.
“Which pile do you want?” asks Rory Rennick, who's performing some street magic at on Capitol Square in Columbus.
He has a tray table, a deck of cards and some fancy handwork.
"Count the cards in your hand.”
Rennick is well-versed in methods of misdirection, a point he wants to hammer home when talking about the opponents of Issue 2.
“We’re exposing what the big drug companies want to do," Rennick says. "They want you to think that you have a choice but don’t be fooled.”
Thirty-one floors above Rennick in the Riffe Center, the Ohio Elections Commission is hearing arguments from both supporters and opponents of Issue 2.
The ballot initiative would force the state to pay for prescription drugs at a discounted price, the same price the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays.
The pharmaceutical industry is squarely against this issue and putting a lot of money into stopping it. In fact, the opposition’s last finance report showed a collection of nearly $16 million. But opponents are not disclosing exactly which drug companies are shilling out the big bucks.
That’s why the case is in front of the Ohio Elections Commission. Dennis Willard, a spokesperson for Yes on Issue 2, calls it a shell game.
“These nefarious drug companies are writing checks and then hiding behind a lobbying organization," Willard says.
Willard’s argument is that drug companies used an LLC as the middleman between them and their PAC, allowing them to avoid disclosure.
But Dale Butland with the group fighting Issue 2 says they’ve done nothing wrong, and have followed state law. He notes that the Ohio Elections Commission threw out the complaints related to the argument.
“This campaign like every campaign is obligated to follow Ohio law and we have done that and the Ohio Elections Commission found that too," Butland says. "So I don’t know how much more plain it can be.”
Butland says he wasn’t able to catch Rennick’s sleight of hand show before the commission meeting but he says if anyone’s playing a game of misdirection it’s the proponents of Issue 2.
“Which will do none of the things that they’ve promised, it won’t lower drug costs for anybody and it won’t save money for taxpayers so it is a complete shell game and I think what they’ve done this morning having performed in a shell game is very apt," Butland says.
Willard says they will continue to fight on this issue because when it comes to campaign finance, transparency is vital.
“In a democracy people have the right to know who’s trying to influence these elections," Willard says. "And the fact is that when people find out that the drug companies are for the ‘no’ vote then people are switching to the ‘yes’ vote.”
Butland counters that the argument from Willard’s side is more of a deflection than anything else.
“It is clearly a diversionary tactic to try and draw attention away from the fact that there have been virtually no statewide organizations that have endorsed them," Butland says.
In the meantime, this ballot initiative is on track to becoming one of the most expensive campaign issues in state history, which means more arguments, more commercials and more acts like Rennick’s in the weeks leading up to Election Day.