LOS ANGELES — Last week at a press conference to discuss a California ballot initiative that would mandate condoms on porn sets, AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein called his group "unabashedly an advocacy organization."
Unabashedly, the group also is a litigation dragon that again is taking aim at the county of Los Angeles, alleging now it misappropriated funds.
The Hollywood, Calif.-based AHF has accused county officials of refusing to hand over documents detailing the alleged use of federal HIV funding to pay for outside counsel to defend the county against a number of lawsuits.
In a suit filed at Los Angeles Superior Court last week, the AHF charged that county officials called their public records request “excessively broad" and that litigation expenses do not count as “HIV-related services” under the county's $57 million federal program for HIV and STD services.
The AHF's suit is the latest against the county, which in the past has scrutinized the nonprofit's work with audits that cast an unfavorable light on its performance and was named as a defendant over withholding funds to the group.
The AHF provides HIV and STD services in many metropolitan U.S. regions, such as Los Angeles County, under contract.
News of the lawsuit against the county came the same week Weinstein held a press conference to discuss AHF's decision to launch a statewide ballot initiative to mandate condom use on all porn sets in California.
Weinstein, whose organization has been pressing the porn-condom issue for the past 10 years with some success in Measure B (the Los Angeles County ordinance that was passed by voters but is currently being appealed), said he would charge on despite being defeated in several attempts in California's Legislature.
Diane Duke, who leads the Canoga Park, Calif.-based adult entertainment trade group Free Speech Coalition as CEO, called the AHF's latest battle with Los Angeles County leaders "laughable."
"If AHF is so concerned about L.A. County using HIV funds for legal fees, perhaps they should stop suing them," Duke told XBIZ. "I find it laughable that AHF is accusing the county of misappropriation funds when they have attorneys on staff that do nothing but file suits.
"Moreover, they just announced plans for a ballot measure that will cost millions to regulate an industry that has gone over 10 years without an onset HIV transmission. Meanwhile L.A. County has five new transmissions daily.
"Clearly AHF and Weinstein should worry about how they are wasting resources that would be better served on patient care."
It's not the first time that Weinstein and the AHF have been charged with wasting resources or taxpayer funds.
In recent months, industry stakeholders have noted that the group has diverted significant Cal/OSHA resources away from serious work-related incidents to audit the adult film business, particularly with their complaints and the drive to amend regulations that mandate barrier protection in shoots.
Heightened complaints over AHF's tactics in attempts to catapult condom regulation to the forefront come after a new report was released by the U.S. Department of Labor and federal OSHA that painted a grim picture for Cal/OSHA. The Labor Department said that the occupational safety agency is "challenged to fulfill its important mission" in its latest annual evaluation.
"When hearing about the numerous lawsuits and arguments Michael Weinstein involves AHF in, one cannot help but think of the AHF employees, and encourage them to stand up to Weinstein as his dysfunctional and irresponsible leadership becomes more obvious with time," said Peter Acworth, the founder of San Francisco-based Kink.com, who has been a main target of Weinstein over the porn-condom issue.
The dizzying amount of litigation and taxpayer waste brought on by the AHF and Weinstein is apparent and they should be called out on it, he said.
"Michael Weinstein is about to commit $15 million to $20 million on a statewide 2016 ballot initiative to mandate condoms in adult movies, despite the conspicuous absence of a single on-set HIV transmissions this last decade," Acworth told XBIZ. "It is indeed ironic that he dares accuse others of misappropriation of funds."
Weinstein declined to discuss the latest suit against Los Angeles County or the amount of money it will take to fund the statewide porn-condom initiative. Weinstein, however, told XBIZ that the $15 million to $20 million estimate was "absurd."
But Acworth countered that in the best-case scenario for AHF that his estimate is in line with what must be accomplished.
"It will cost AHF $2 million to $3 million merely to collect the signatures necessary to get the measure on the ballot," Acworth said. "Then add legal fees to draft and negotiate the language, then add money for a worthy media campaign, and you soon get into the eight-figure range.
"Obviously, we'll be pushing for a wording favorable to us. If we succeed in that, Weinstein will have to pay money for a media campaign to get it through, and that's not cheap at all."