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J&J is Largest Contributor to Pharma Lobbying Group Opposing California Ballot Question

Advocates For Reducing Specialty Drug Prices Respond With Mobile Billboard Admonishing Johnson & Johnson
Mobile billboard
A billboard on wheels has been seen around J&J's headquartrs to protest its $5.8M donation to oppose a drug relief ballotmeasure Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–Johnson & Johnson (J&J) recently contributed $5.86 million to the “Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America California Initiative Fund” to help head off lower drug prices, according to a California Secretary of State filing on October 2.

The "Late Contribution Report" document shows that J&J is the largest contributor, and one of three founding drug makers to commit funds in opposition of the “California Drug Pricing Relief Ballot Measure.”

On September 22, J&J’s “Contributor Code” listed on California Form 497 was “Other,” as the company initially donated only $160,000 to the fund.

By comparison, Bristol-Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company that also has a major location in New Brunswick, donated $2.88 million on the same date.

However, J&J kicked in another $5.7 million just seven days later, raising its total contribution to the newly opened fund to $5.86 million.

“We were shocked when we put forth the California Drug Price Relief Act,” Ged Kenslea, Senior Director Communications of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told New Brunswick Today.

“Before we even submitted the signatures for authorization in California – before the signatures were even submitted by the applicant to qualify the ballot measure, a committee was formed to oppose the measure.”

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)  is quite powerful as the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying arm.

Kenslea explained that it only took two weeks for “a group of players in the drug industry” to amass more than $10 million to try to keep drug prices at their outrageously high levels.

“We take J&J’s total payment of 5.86 million dollars as a good sign that they are feeling threatened by this,” said Kenslea.

He added: “But we are disappointed that a company like J&J would be trying to head off lower drug prices for individuals and for government programs.”

But the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), and other advocates for reducing skyrocketing specialty drug prices. have been fighting back with their new marketing and public awareness campaign here in the Hub City.

In December, their full-size billboard on wheels began circulating around downtown displaying the message "No More Tears for J and J Greed!" in protest of the Pharmaceutical Giant’s donation to defeat the effort to slash drug prices.

Kenslea said his organization first tried to place the “No More Tears for Greed” message on fixed billboards but was rejected by one of the largest outdoor advertising agencies in New Jersey.

The agency simply would not allow paid billboards speaking against J&J and its drug pricing advocates’ be so close to J&J headquarters in New Brunswick.

The ads will, however, appear in the New Brunswick and Edison train stations, as well as on palmcards distributed in downtown New Brunswick by advocates.

According to filings, more than eight other drug makers are also mobilizing against the “California Drug Price Relief Act,” along with J&J:

  • Amgen ($4.265 million)
  • AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP ($4.15 million)
  • AbbVie Inc. ($4.15 million)
  • Novartis ($2.88 million)
  • Eli Lily ($2.88 million)
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. ($2.88 million)
  • Otsuka America, Inc. ($1.075 million)
  • Purdue Pharma LP ($1.105 million).

The ballot measure would ensure that government health programs pay no more for prescription drugs than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which typically receives large discounts on medications from drugmakers like J&J.

The measure would also require drugmakers to give big discounts to state agencies serving HIV patients, retirees, inmates, and people with very little money.

"We expect to have confirmation that we will qualify the ballot measure by the end of the year," said Kenslea, explaining that a sufficient number of California voter signatures had been filed.

“But the fact that $23 million has been donated by pharmaceutical industry players before we even had certification of the ballot measure is pretty telling about J&J’s anxiety level concerning this issue.”

Michael Weinstein is president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and one of the citizen proponents of the California Drug Price Relief Act.

“In 2014, Johnson & Johnson reported making over $16 billion in profit, an 18% increase from the previous year," Weinstein said.  "With those kind of returns, it’s absolutely appalling that this corporate giant would lead the way to oppose grassroots efforts to help the little man—everyday citizens who depend on health agencies and insurers having access to the medications they need."

“For people living with HIV/AIDS, this is a life-or-death situation.  It’s truly sad and disappointing that one of the most well-known and trusted companies in America is using its vast resources to try to keep drug prices at their outrageously high levels.”

The campaign's website, as advertised on the mobile billboard is JandJgreed.org.