COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio’s two fall ballot issues may be decided by the influence of two wealthy Californians.
Henry Nicholas is the tech executive behind Issue 1, Marsy’s Law, which would require that crime victims and their families are notified of all court proceedings, allowed to tell their stories and given input on plea deals.
The retired co-founder of chip maker Broadcom says he’s driven to philanthropy and support of the measure in honor of his sister, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.
Health care executive Michael Weinstein, president of the nonprofit $1.2 billion AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has thrown his organization’s financial resources behind Issue 2, a drug pricing initiative — and quickly become a target for opponents who say he is an untrustworthy “serial litigator.”
The two are portrayed in starkly different lights as they play central roles in their respective ballot issue campaigns. Weinstein has fast become a familiar face to Ohio voters who are seeing a non-stop barrage of related advertising.
The pharmaceutical industry-backed campaign against Issue 2, Ohioans Against the Deceptive Rx Ballot Issue, has spent an estimated $32 million so far to oppose the measure. The yes campaign, Ohio Taxpayers for Lower Drug Prices, has spent about $7 million, mostly on attacks of the pharmaceutical industry.
Updated figures are due out Thursday.
The Marsy’s Law for Ohio campaign — thanks in part to Nicholas’ story — has drawn no organized opposition. The campaign reported raising $5.7 million as of Wednesday, $2.9 million in direct donations from Nicholas.
Weinstein has been the primary focus of the opposition campaign against Issue 2, which would require Ohio to pay no more for prescription drugs than the Veterans Administration, which receives deep discounts.
Opponents are trying to personify the campaign to voters who might be put off by the complexity of the issues and play upon the envy some feel toward those with wealth and privilege, said political scientist John Green, director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute. He said Ohioans’ opinions on the matter reflect those of the nation.
“Almost every major issue is complicated to some degree,” he said. “So there are a number of ways of simplifying it and one way is to personify it, to find a person who’s either admirable or not admirable and make that the symbol of the question.”
A recent mailer by the campaign against Issue 2 pointed to past references to Weinstein as a “thug,” ”bully,” and “Satan” — names he has been called over the years by critics — and says he is “not on your side.”
Weinstein’s organization has been criticized for filing dozens of lawsuits over the years against government agencies. It has included a clause in the Ohio proposal that would force the state to defend the law if it’s challenged in court.
The campaigns say the provision was included out of concern that the state might balk at doing its constitutional duty if drug makers filed expensive challenges — but opponents say the provision stands to personally benefit Weinstein and his associates.
Dennis Willard, a campaign spokesman for Issue 2, says most of the suits Weinstein’s foundation has filed have been against drug companies to lower prices.
He said negative portrayals of Weinstein ignore the good that AIDS Healthcare Foundation has done around the world. He said the group provides low-cost medicine and health care to people in 39 countries and 15 states, including administering about 5 million free HIV tests a year.
“When you spend $3 million a week demonizing somebody on television you can win the day, but history will be very kind to Michael Weinstein,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Marsy’s Law organization, Gail Gitcho, said the Ohio campaign is not a single man’s work and that Nicholas has not sought praise for his efforts.
“Dr. Nicholas has made Marsy’s Law his life’s work. He’s working in nearly a dozen states to ensure that crime victims have equal constitutional protections under the law,” she said. “There’s no return on this investment. All he wants is for the crime victims around the country to be treated fairly.”