Wednesday, February 15, 2017


There's a part of Measure S that is personal for me. No, not because of its impact on land use and planning in LA - although that definitely hits home on a number of levels. And not even because it feels like the older generation telling the younger generation to bug off - although that also hits home for many reasons.

Measure S is personal because of how it is being financed. Officially, the campaign in favor of Measure S has received contributions of about $2.5 million in one year. What's noteworthy about that is that almost all of that $2.5M (well, about 98%) has come from one source: the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Whenever this financing has been raised by members of the community wanting to understand AHF's involvement, the measure's proponents have typically pointed to AHF's advocacy for hospice care in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis.

This answer leaves me wanting, for a few reasons. And, ultimately, it leaves me upset and, personally, offended.

According to its annual statement, AHF receives about $1 million annually in cash contributions. This is an organization that receives and spends over $1 billion (with a "B") every year. Anyone with any knowledge of nonprofits will instantly recognize that this isn't your mom-and-pop nonprofit agency. First reason for that is the sheer size of the organization; and the second reason is comparably how little of its money comes from cash contributions (about 0.1%).

You might be asking, well, so what? And, also, why? AHF repeats ad nauseum that the money it is pouring into the campaign to pass Measure S wouldn't otherwise go to provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS, and that it's only doing this to ensure housing affordability (because, I suppose further slowing housing construction will somehow lower housing prices). What they won't tell you is that the measure is crafted in precisely a manner intended to stop a new housing development from going up across the street from their penthouse suite headquarters, blocking their CEO's views of downtown LA.

(Michael Weinstein in his penthouse office suite.)

So... think again about that number: $2.5 MILLION. And, at the current rate of spending they'll likely contribute closer to $3.5-4.0 million when all is said and done.

Most HIV/AIDS service providers in LA County would be thrilled to have that kind of money. They could connect thousands of people to care and treatment. They could identify more of those 7,000 folks in LA County who don't know that they have HIV and get them into services. They could offer STD and HIV testing and treatment services for thousands of people. They could provide counseling services to thousands of people.

Which also begs the question: where does AHF get all that money? $1,000,000,000 is a lot of zeroes. Thing is, AHF benefits from government largesse for being a nonprofit that specializes in HIV/AIDS medical treatment. As a nonprofit, they don't pay taxes on all their land-ownings (valued at $93M in 2015). They get about $40M in government grants that would not be available to for-profit providers. They are a Medicaid services provider that makes $170M every year in health insurance premiums. But the big one - accounting for $800M, or 80%, of their 2015 revenue - is that they are a pharmacy. And they get preferential HIV medication pricing (340B) that is only available to nonprofit pharmacies. With this preferential treatment, they buy medications at a fraction the cost of for-profit pharmacies like Walgreens or Rite Aid, and then they get to bill for those drugs at rates that undercut the for-profits.

For AHF, all these things accumulate into a giant bank account - for which a $2.5M ballot measure is but a rounding error - but the numbers in human terms are unmistakable.

This is personal for me, because I have worked in HIV/AIDS advocacy. I know that AHF's $2.5M in the hands of any other organization could have a MAJOR impact. It could save the lives of many people living with HIV/AIDS, prevent the infections of many more people, or go toward making housing more affordable for hundreds of people. Heck, the much-ballyhooed (and, generally, quite successful) AIDS Walk LA raised all of $2 million last year.

AHF has used the money it made as a result of programs and policies intended to help it better serve people living with HIV/AIDS to instead pay for over a dozen mailers, blanketing the city. AHF's hand-picked Measure S campaign manager is raking in over $15K/month to tell half-truths to community leaders across the city, with her paycheck coming out of money that could have saved thousands of lives. AHF has financed over 130 "Yes on S" billboards that could instead be signs pointing people to the nearest HIV/AIDS provider and getting them into treatment.

This is personal. LA deserves so much better. The people in LA who are living with HIV/AIDS deserve so much better. And, quite frankly, AHF as an organization that, as its supporters will happily tell you, started out as so much better. I suppose, as the old saying goes, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." And apparently AHF's powerful CEO is not immune to this corrupting influence when it comes to using whatever means necessary, no matter the financial or human cost, to preserve his penthouse views.

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