Landlords target AIDS Healthcare with proposed state ballot measure

Protect Patients Now Act focuses on how LA-based foundation gets money for politics

Landlords Target AIDS Healthcare With Proposed Ballot Measure
Assemblyman Evan Low, CAA's Thomas Bannon and AHF's Michael Weinstein (California State Assembly Democratic Caucus, California Apartment Association, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Getty)

A California landlords group wants to spend millions to support a ballot initiative to thwart one man: Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an advocate for rent control.

The California Apartment Association will financially back a ballot measure proposed by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, that would block Weinstein from using his Hollywood-based nonprofit to pay for his political agenda, Politico reported.

The new anti-Weinstein initiative, known as the Protect Patients Now Act, would target Weinstein over how he raises the money he spends on campaigning.

The tax-exempt nonprofit operates clinics and pharmacies that serve millions of patients across dozens of countries. It also runs thrift stores. AHF has spent up to $100 million on local and state ballot measures and political causes, including rent control, a housing development freeze, drug pricing and requiring condoms in adult films.

Weinstein has fought landlords with numerous attempts at expanding rent control in California.

According to Politico, AHF uses an established federal drug discount program designed to encourage healthcare nonprofits to treat low-income patients. Called 340B, it allows the organization to buy prescription drugs at a deep discount and bill public programs the regular price. 

AHF has long argued that it spends 340B funds for their intended purpose and that the foundation is allowed to spend a certain percentage on political activity.

The new ballot measure is laser focused — meaning it would apply only to drug program participants that have spent more than $100 million on issues other than direct patient care and have 500 or more health and safety violations on their low-income properties. 

Politico could find no other groups that match that criteria.

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“It’s common sense: public tax dollars meant for patients should be spent on patients,” Low told Politico regarding his ballot measure proposal.

The proposed ballot measure would require AHF to spend 98 percent of its taxpayer-generated revenues on direct patient care. It also would seek to prevent the group from overcharging government agencies for prescription drugs.

If AHF violated the new law, the state could strip its nonprofit status and make the organization ineligible for taxpayer dollars. Proponents say internal polling conducted in July by FM3 Research found a solid majority would support the measure.

A spokesperson for AIDS Healthcare Foundation blasted the California Apartment Association, saying the trade group “is so afraid of the voters that they need to muzzle renter advocates. 

“They are classic bullies who can’t deal with a fair fight,” the spokesperson told Politico.

Weinstein has had few electoral successes in the Golden State, but his spending on ballot measures has made him a political force. Some of California’s leading politicians and interest groups see him as an uncompromising pugilist, with few allies.

The California Apartment Association, the nation’s largest statewide association for rental owners and managers, last spring launched a campaign to fight a statewide cap on rent increases. The bill, known as SB 567, was then tossed out of a legislative committee. 

At the same time, AHF filed 800,000 signatures toward a November 2024 ballot measure that would replace the state’s 28-year-old rent control law with a more stringent measure known as the Justice for Renters Act. It follows similar attempts to reverse the Costa-Hawkins Act that limits how California cities can control rents. Voters rejected similar reversal measures in 2018 and 2020.

— Dana Bartholomew

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