Calif. initiative campaigns cost $227 million
Prop. 8: most expensive ballot measure on social issue in nation’s history
Published Thursday, 12-Feb-2009 in issue 1103
SACRAMENTO (AP) – The rest of California’s economy was slumping, but the state remained a treasure-trove last fall for campaign consultants and others who make money off political races.
Led by the heated fight over same-sex marriage, campaigns spent $227.2 million to pass or defeat 11 propositions on California’s November ballot, according to post-election contribution reports that had to be filed with the secretary of state’s office by midnight Feb. 3.
That’s short of the record but still represents a huge investment in television and radio advertisements and other campaign spending.
“That’s a lot of money,” said Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based think tank that studies campaign finance issues.
The record for spending on ballot measures in one California election was set in 2006, when donors poured $333 million into campaigns for and against 13 propositions on the November ballot.
A 12th proposal on last November’s ballot, which authorized the sale of $900 million in bonds to finance veterans’ home loans, attracted little or no spending.
It was just the opposite in the campaign over Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban that passed with 52 percent of the vote. Supporters and opponents spent more than $83 million, making it the most expensive ballot measure on a social issue in the nation’s history.
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization, said the fundraising for and against Proposition 8 was unlike anything she has seen in her 15 years tracking campaign spending.
“It was a truly nationwide, grassroots effort on both sides,” she said.
The record for spending on a single California proposition also was set in 2006, when $154.3 million was spent in the fight over Proposition 87, which would have imposed a tax on oil production.
California ballot initiatives often generate huge amounts of spending because the effect – win or lose – can ripple across the nation.
“And industry groups that are affected by these measures know that the stakes are high, that if something pops out of the initiative process in California it’s something that other states and the federal government will notice,” Alexander said.
Industry groups weighed in heavily on two unsuccessful energy-related measures on last November’s ballot, propositions 7 and 10.
Three utility companies, Edison International, PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy, provided almost all of the $29.8 million spent to defeat Proposition 7, which would have required utilities to get at least half their electricity from renewable energy sources such as windmills and solar panels by 2025.
Supporters spent $9.6 million, $9 million of which came from Peter Sperling, senior vice president of the Apollo Group, which operates several private universities, including the University of Phoenix.
National gas companies, including Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens’ Clean Energy Fuels Corp., contributed 98 percent of the $22.8 million spent to promote Proposition 10. Among other things, it would have authorized the sale of $5 billion in state bonds to provide rebates to buyers of natural gas and other alternative-fuel vehicles.
Opponents said it would have benefited Pickens’ fuel company and similar ones. They spent just $173,000 but emerged victorious.
Other high-dollar initiative campaigns included:
• Proposition 2, which set enclosure standards for farm animals. Supporters spent $10.6 million, opponents $8.9 million.
• Proposition 4, a third unsuccessful attempt by abortion opponents to require parental notification before a minor could get an abortion. Supporters spent $3.2 million, opponents $9.5 million.
• Proposition 5, which attempted to expand drug treatment and rehabilitation programs. Supporters spent $7.6 million, opponents $2.8 million.
• Proposition 11, which created a state commission to redraw legislative districts following each national census. Supporters spent $16.6 million, opponents $1.6 million.
Stern said last fall’s totals may be a “high water mark” for campaign spending on California ballot measures because of the slumping economy – unless there are more propositions on the ballot in 2010 that stir heated debates or threaten industry budgets.
“I’m sure people are looking for some more high-spending measures,” he said. “I’m sure some consultants are.”

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