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AIDS charity squandered MILLIONS on failed Los Angeles planning law battle

Nick Duffy March 13, 2017

The world’s largest AIDS charity squandered at least $3 million on a failed attempt to make tougher planning laws around their headquarters in Los Angeles.

The controversial AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is based in downtownLA, donated several millions of dollars to the battle on ‘Measure S’, which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters last week.

The proposals, which have little to do with policy on HIV/AIDS, would have curbed large-scale housing development in Los Angeles by restricting zoning changes, putting a dampener on the building of tower blocks.

The involvement of AHF was a relatively unknown quantity in a city ballot measure which seems to have little to do with its charitable remit.

Writing for the LA Times, AHF President Michael Weinstein insisted the AHF was aiming to “stop the unmitigated greed and corruption” that has led to a spike in homelessness, and was trying to bring “social justice” to the city.

However, critics suggested the obsession was more about stopping construction from spoiling the view from Weinstein’s central LA office. The AHF had conspicuously filed two challenges to proposed tower blocks near its Sunset Boulevard office prior to taking up a sudden interest in planning law.

Regardless of intent, their battle came to nought – with voters overwhelmingly rejecting the AHF-backed proposals by 68.85% to 31.15%.

According to Curbed LA, filings show the AHF wasted millions on the campaign, pouring in a total of at least $3 million on the futile attempt to change the law. The Advocate pegs their total spend at $5.5 million.

It certainly appears no expense was spared on the failed ‘Yes on S’ campaign. There are no less than 93 professionally-produced videos on its YouTube channel, the majority of which have fewer than a hundred viewers. Their social media is packed with slick graphics, and voters in the area were heavily targeted by the campaign.

The charity’s involvement and the amount of money wasted on the failed ballot campaign has attracted a negative response within the LGBT sector, the HIV/AIDS sector, and also the city.

A number of LA-based LGBT charities lined up in opposition to the AHF on the measure, which the Los Angeles LGBT Center says would have hampered its own low-cost housing provisions for LGBT people had it passed.

City Controller Ron Galperin added: “As a member of the LGBT community, it pains me to have to stand here and criticize AHF, but I am compelled to do so.”

“The foundation’s president Michael Weinstein has sadly injected his organisation into a debate over land use that has nothing to do with HIV or AIDS or healthcare… and, in the process, unfortunately, AHF is squandering millions of dollars that should be spent on HIV prevention and treatment.”

Mr Weinstein has not released a statement since the defeat.

It is not the first time the AHF has poured millions into a controversial failed ballot measure, previously pushing failed initiatives to clamp down on the filming of bareback porn in California.

That initiative, which was rejected by voters in November, would have made condoms mandatory in all pornographic scenes filmed in the state, on the grounds that condomless bareback sex promotes ‘risky’ behaviour.

The plans were strongly opposed by other sexual health campaign groups, with activists raising fears fears that an outright ban would simply drive the industry underground – and away from the regular sexual health vetting procedures that are already in place.

It is already mandatory for porn actors to undergo regular HIV tests, and due to strict vetting in the adult industry, incidents of actors being infected with HIV on sets remain extremely rare.

Mr Weinstein claimed that porn studios were nontheless setting a “bad example” on condom use.

After a pricey PR campaign, the measure was defeated when Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians all urged supporters to vote down the plans.

The AHF also publicly went to “war” with other HIV and LGBT charities last year over the use of HIV-preventing drugs.

Unlike most of the HIV/AIDS sector, AHF opposes the use of  Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs, which can reduce the chances of being infected with HIV by up to 99% if taken daily, and has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for regular use by at-risk men who have sex with men.

Spokespeople for the AHF have claimed that use of PrEP de-emphasises the protection of condoms, that men who have sex with men cannot be trusted to take it consistently, and that its long-term side effects are unknown – though studies have found that it is safe as aspirin.

Mr Weinstein previously claimed it is a “party drug” that is peddled by people who are “all associated with bareback porn”.

The AHF sunk an unknown amount of money to lobby lawmakers against AB 2640, a bill in California that would introduce education about PrEP into the standard routine for those undergoing HIV tests.

The bitter feud, which saw the Los Angeles LGBT Center release unprecedented attack ads aimed at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, ended in yet another defeat for Mr Weinstein.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the PrEP education law last September.

More: AHF, AIDS, campaign, Gay, healthcare, LGBT, US

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