Attorney Groups, PhRMA Meet To Discuss Some Proposed Ballot Measures
Officials representing state trial lawyer associations on Thursday met with pharmaceutical industry representatives in San Francisco to discuss a measure -- backed by drug makers -- that would place a cap on attorneys' contingency fees, as well as a ballot petition "targeting prescription drug prices" that could receive financial support from lawyer groups, the Sacramento Bee reports.
According to the Bee, participants in the meeting included Consumer Attorneys of California President Sharon Arkin; former CAC president David Casey; Frank Schubert, a political consultant managing the drug industry's campaign; and Willie Brown (D), a former San Francisco mayor and "longtime ally" of trial lawyers who has been retained as a private attorney by the drug industry. The meeting was at least the third to take place between the two groups (Furillo, Sacramento Bee, 3/25).
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America in February committed to spend $10 million to put three initiatives, including a prescription drug measure, on the next statewide ballot.
PhRMA's expenditure will fund efforts to qualify for the next statewide ballot an initiative similar to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) California Rx plan, in addition to a measure that would prevent public employee unions from using member fees for political purposes and an initiative that would reduce trial lawyers' contingency fees. All three measures have been filed with the attorney general's office by Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, a Sacramento law firm representing PhRMA (California Healthline, 2/15).
One union-backed prescription drug measure would require drug makers to offer discounts, and signatures already are being collected to qualify the measure for the ballot. Anthony Wright of Health Access, who authored the initiative, said he will "absolutely" proceed with efforts to qualify it for the ballot. The measure, supported by the Alliance for a Better California, to date has received about $1.7 million in donations, with most coming from labor unions.
The trial lawyers group is not directly involved in any ballot measure now circulating. Political experts say that "Wright would probably have to carry on [his] fight without any cash from the trial lawyers" if CAC reaches an agreement with PhRMA, the Bee reports.
Arkin and Schubert declined to provide specifics of the meeting, but both said the talks were productive. Arkin said she was "hopeful" the two sides could reach a deal within the next month.
Schubert said that the meetings have "been very positive," adding, "We want to see if there is an opportunity to resolve our differences and focus our activities in the Legislature. PhRMA believes these issues are best dealt with in the Legislature."
According to the Bee, the "face-off between the trial lawyers and the drug companies adds a complex overlay to fall's looming battle," although the meetings also indicate the two sides "may be ready to step back and make a deal before it is too late."
Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick said, "Once both sides get into this, and they realize what an unbelievably complicated and expensive thing it is, I think everybody gets to the point at some time where they start talking seriously about how to stand down."
Republican consultant Kevin Spillane said the issue is "just one chapter in a very long, complicated story, and one that is going to twist and turn for quite some time."
Jon Coupal, a spokesperson for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and a board member of the Schwarzenegger-affiliated Citizens to Save California, said any agreement between lawyers and drug companies would be "unlikely" to affect the governor's plans for a special election, adding, "I don't see it having an impact on the overall reform package."
Schwarzenegger spokesperson Margita Thompson said, "We don't have a dog in that fight" (Sacramento Bee, 3/25).