Due to California’s penchant for legislating at the ballot box, the state has reigned as the top destination for industry campaign spending since even before the Supreme Court widened the door to corporate political donations with its 2010 Citizens United decision.
But one measure on this November's California ballot appears poised to set a new standard for corporate spending. The so-called California Drug Price Relief Act would cap the price any state agency or healthcare program could spend on prescription drugs at the level paid by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, which customarily receives the largest discounts of any government agency. Turning the VA’s prices into a benchmark for California could cost Big Pharma billions of dollars a year in profits, especially if the discounts were later demanded by other states or even private insurers.
“The drug companies see this as an existential issue,” says Garry South, the veteran political operative heading the pro-initiative campaign. “The industry itself has said that California is ground zero” in the battle over high drug prices.
That’s a fair assessment. The initiative has attracted nationwide attention. On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took the opportunity at a Sacramento appearance to endorse it and flay the drug industry, a favorite target: “Their greed has no end,” he said. “Drug companies shouldn’t be allowed to make billions of dollars in profits off of people with cancer and AIDS who are in desperate need of lifesaving drugs.”