AIDS foundation goes all in for rent control initiative

It’s perhaps no surprise that apartment owners, real estate interests and corporate landlords have spent $61 million to kill Proposition 10, an initiative that threatens their income by reinstating rent control in California. But the main funder of the Yes on 10 campaign comes from what might, to an unpracticed eye, be an unlikely source.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based not-for-profit organization, states that its mission is to “rid the world of AIDS through a network of pharmacies, thrift stores, healthcare contracts and other strategic partnerships.” But its founder, Michael Weinstein, who once ran for LA City Council and is known for being pugnacious, has a history of using revenue from the 31-year-old organization to promote high-cost ballot measures.

On Friday, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation disclosed giving $3 million to the Yes-on-10 campaign, pushing its total to $20.5 million of the $22 million raised so far for the measure.

The foundation’s total is four times more than the $5 million given by the largest single donor to the No-on-10 campaign, the California Association of Realtors.

Orange County attorney William R. Mitchell owns five modest apartment buildings and recently donated $3,800 to the No-on-10 campaign.

He also has been involved in clean government efforts in Orange County and was so taken aback by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s political spending that he blogged about it.

Noting that the foundation receives federal health care money to combat AIDS and HIV, Mitchell wrote: “The Office of the Inspector General should take a look at this. This is not how Medicare was supposed to work.”

Sacramento lobbyist Rand Martin, who represents the foundation, explains that Weinstein’s nonprofit began as the AIDS Hospice Foundation, adding: “Housing has always been a primary objective of the organization.”

Martin said the organization seeks to address the need for affordable housing by “preventing evictions and displacement; preserving neighborhoods by fighting luxury towers in working-class areas; and producing housing through the acquisition and rehabilitation of buildings for low-income and homeless people.”

Martin notes that Internal Revenue Service regulations prohibit nonprofits from supporting or opposing candidates but are “fairly vague about what percentage of a nonprofit’s budget is allowed to be spent on issue advocacy.”

The $20 million spent on Proposition 10 is a relatively small percentage of the foundation’s $1 billion-plus in revenue.

If it all sounds familiar, it is.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation spent $19.6 million on two statewide initiatives in 2016, one that sought to regulate drug prices and another to require that condoms be used in porn productions. In 2017, the foundation spent $5 million on a Los Angeles ballot measure to limit development. Voters rejected them.

A recent poll showed voters are closely divided on Proposition 10. The New York Times reported that Weinstein promises to pay for another rent control measure if Proposition 10 fails: “I’m kind of like gum on your shoe.”

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