Staff: AHF 'Lost Sight of Its Mission; Patient Care is Suffering'

LOS ANGELES—AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, says on its website that its mission is "providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy" as well as "[g]enerating and defining new, innovative ways of treatment, prevention and advocacy" and "expanding... influence over policy with the sole aim of saving more lives."

Trouble is, apparently that "influence over policy" is coming at the expense of providing care and treatment to the very community it claims to serve—and AHF staffers, in their new bid to unionize, say that AHF's clinics are "understaffed, that there is a lack of Spanish interpreters and that there has been a push to pack more patients into the schedule each day at the expense of quality care."

"They [clinic staffers] say their complaints have been disregarded and that the organization is focusing too much energy on political advocacy," wrote reporter Abby Sewell in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. "Those include fights with the county and with the adult film industry over attempts to mandate condom use on set as a way to reduce exposure to social diseases."

Consider some of AHF's non-treatment-related activities over the past few years, at least as far as the adult industry is concerned. About three years ago, AHF filed a petition with California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) seeking to amend the state's Code of Regulations to include a requirement that adult industry performers use condoms for all vaginal and anal (and possibly oral) penetration, and sent staffers and experts to attend the roughly half-dozen public meetings convened by CalOSHA inspector Deborah Gold, and in some cases testify in support of the petition.

At about that same time, Brian Chase, then-assistant general counsel to AHF, filed a lawsuit against the industry's exclusive testing facility, Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), on behalf of former performers Desi and Ellie Foxx, claiming that AIM had violated the performers' HIPAA medical privacy rights in disclosing their test results to adult producers—although both performers had voluntarily signed AIM's disclosure forms to allow just such information to be revealed to producers. The expenses in defending this frivilous lawsuit played a significant part in AIM's bankruptcy less than a year later, forcing the adult industry to seek new testing providers and to form a new system of tracking performer availability, PASS. It is unknown how much money AHF spent on legal filings and court appearances in its pro bono representation of the Foxxes.

But when it became clear that CalOSHA wouldn't act on its petition as quickly as AHF wanted—and indeed, may not act on it at all—AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein came up with another plan to target the adult industry: A ballot measure that would require any company shooting adult content in the City of Los Angeles to promise to use condoms or be denied a shooting permit from FilmLA, the agency chartered to provide such permits. The proposed law would also require that the city provide health inspectors that would visit adult movie sets to make sure the mandate was being followed.

It is unknown how much money it cost AHF to create the city ballot measure, to hire the dozens if not hundreds of signature gatherers necessary to obtain the 41,183 signatures it needed to put the measure on the June, 2012 ballot—it got more than 62,000 signatures altogether—and how much it spent to lobby the Los Angeles City Council to enact the mandatory condom law before the citizenry could vote on it. Nor is it known how much it cost AHF to attend the hearings before the City Comptroller in the city's failed attempt to find and fund an agency or outside group which would actually police adult sets for condom use.

Being an organization that regularly throws good money after bad, when the city failed to fully implement its mandatory condom policy, AHF created yet another ballot measure, this time at the county level, which would not only require the use of condoms and other "personal protective measures" in shooting adult content, but also create an entire "condom police" infrastructure within the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH), at an estimated cost of $580,000 for just its first two years of operation. The new LACDPH division would be required to issue "public health permits" to adult producers, without which they could not film or webcast in the county, and if county inspectors were to find that a producer had failed to follow the requirements of what became Measure B, the inspectors could pull the health permits from the offending companies, thus preventing them from filming any adult content whatsoever in Los Angeles County, and could impose huge fines and even jail sentences on offenders. Under Measure B as enacted, the permits could not be reinstated without an extra-judicial hearing before a health department officer—a clear violation of those producers' legal rights.

Again, it is not known how much it cost AHF to craft its county ballot measure, to hire the signature-gatherers necessary to collect the 232,153 signatures to put the measure on the November, 2012 ballot—it got more than 360,000 signatures altogether—not to mention how much it cost the county to add Measure B to the ballot—the LA City Attorney estimated that it would have cost the city $4 million to put AHF's city ballot measure on the actual ballot—and to buy ad space, billboard space and hold press conferences to promote what became Measure B.

And indeed, thanks to the avalanche of propaganda put out by AHF, Measure B was enacted into law—and shortly thereafter, Vivid Entertainment and performers Kayden Kross and Logan Pierce sued to have the law overturned—which it would have been, since even the county's attorneys understood that it had several unconstitutional aspects to it. But back in April, AHF sued to become an intervenor in Vivid's lawsuit, a move that was granted by U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, and which he refused to overrule even in light of a U.S. Supreme Court's ruling making it crystal clear that AHF had no standing in the case.

To repeat, it is unknown how much it cost AHF to pay attorneys Samantha Azulay and Christina Yang and their associates to create the legal motions that got AHF insinuated into the lawsuit, and to create and file the legal papers opposing Vivid's motion for a temporary restraining order against implementation of Measure B and Vivid's motion for summary judgment on the pleadings—but it's common knowledge that legal services don't come cheap.

Even before AHF sought entry into the Vivid lawsuit, AHF was spending even more money operating behind the scenes to influence state Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton) to introduce, on February 14, Assembly Bill 332, which would require that adult movie actors use "engineering and work practice controls" when performing sexual acts in adult movies anywhere in the state. The bill was considered by three assembly committees, the last of which tabled the bill, effectively killing it, because it was estimated that it would cost over $150,000 to implement the bill if enacted.

But even with AB 332 dead, AHF wasn't done with Assemblyman Hall. For reasons about which AVN (not to mention Hall's own constituency) are not privy, AHF apparently convinced Hall to gut his previously-introduced bill, AB 640, which would have allowed veterans to buy tobacco using only their service ID cards, and replace its text with an almost exact duplicate of AB 332. AB 640 was also voted down by the legislature—but again, it's unknown how much time and money AHF spent lobbying legislators to get some statewide version of Measure B passed.

And finally (for the moment), it's worth noting that with AHF more or less rebuffed by the city, and with the county unable or unwilling to enforce Measure B (a wise move since it would limit the damages the county will face when Vivid wins its suit), AHF apparently to take what it considered to be the "high road": It wants the City of Los Angeles to create its own city-wide Public Health Department and withdraw from using the county health department's services. And true to form, it once again hired signature-gatherers at an unknown cost to collect 70,000 signatures—it's unclear how many were actually needed—to put a referendum on the proposed new agency on the city's June, 2014 ballot.

Never mind that in March, "City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana told The Times that the city simply doesn't have the money, expertise or facilities to enforce public health laws.

"It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the city to get in the business of healthcare," Santana said. "The city is simply not in a position to take this on."

But what does Michael Weinstein care? He and his organization are constantly in the news, and every time he or AHF is mentioned in the media, it's another bit of "activity" to which he can point and tell potential donors, "See, we're actually doing something, so give us some money."

And while the total amount that AHF has spent on its political activism is unknown—certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars, and possibly several million—it's legitimate to ask, is the organization violating the terms of its 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under current IRS rules?

"To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3)... In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates," the Internal Revenue Service's website states. "Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct."

"In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying)," another section of the IRS website reads. "A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

"Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure... An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation." [Emphasis added.]

So let's review: AIDS Healthcare has funded two ballot initiatives in the Los Angeles area, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the public and elected officials to pass both of those initiatives as well as two bills in front of the state legislature, and recently organized a phone bank whose purpose was to "urge [i.e., influence] constituents in [Assemblymember Mike] Gatto's district, which includes Atwater Village, Burbank, Glendale, Hollywood, La Cañada-Flintridge, La Crescenta, Los Feliz, Montrose and Silver Lake, to call his office and tell him to 'free AB 640 from his hold and let it come to a vote immediately before anyone else is harmed'," according to a September 5 article in the LA Times.

That's a hell of a lot of attempts to influence legislation—and if AHF's own staffers are to be believed, it's all been done at the expense of AHF's alleged "core mission": To help those already afflicted with HIV by providing treatment and other healthcare.

Michael Weinstein should be ashamed of himself.