Capitol Alert

Spending on California 2016 ballot measures hit record

Bernie Sanders makes 2016 push for drug-pricing measure

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop in Sacramento to make a final push for Proposition 61 on the West steps of the state Capitol on Monday, November 7, 2016.
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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop in Sacramento to make a final push for Proposition 61 on the West steps of the state Capitol on Monday, November 7, 2016.

Campaigns for and against the 17 measures on California’s fall ballot spent nearly a half-billion dollars, the most ever for a single election in California, according to campaign disclosure filings this week.

Campaign committees had until midnight Tuesday to report spending totals through Dec. 31. The filings show $485 million in spending by dozens of campaign committees that supported or opposed measures on the Nov. 8 ballot. The total is about the same as what was spent on ballot measures over three elections in 2008. Voters that year decided Proposition 8, a same-sex marriage measure, in November, a pair of eminent domain measures in June and four referendums on tribal casinos in February.

Despite Proposition 64’s ranking in the hefty mix of initiatives last year, spending to legalize recreational marijuana was vastly overshadowed by measures that sought higher taxes and fees on cigarettes, pharmaceuticals and top-income earners. The main campaign to pass Proposition 64 spent $15.9 million, dwarfing the opposition spending of $1.4 million.

The most expensive ballot fight was over Proposition 61, which would have limited how much the state could pay for drugs. Pharmaceutical industry opponents of the measure spent $111 million to defeat the initiative, compared to $20 million spent by the measure’s backers, led by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Coming in second was the battle over the tobacco tax increase measure, Proposition 56, with total spending at roughly $103 million. Tobacco industry opponents spent $70.5 million in their unsuccessful effort to defeat the measure, compared to $32.6 million spent by proponents of the measure. Billionaire environmentalist and Democratic donor Tom Steyer, was a major donor for the Proposition 56 campaign.

The hospital industry, meanwhile, spent $66.5 million to pass Proposition 52, which locks in a fee on hospitals that helps pull in federal money to support California’s low-income health programs. The measure passed with more than 70 percent of the vote, with no organized opposition.

Total spending for Proposition 55, which extended the higher income tax for top earners first approved in 2012, came in at $61.2 million, with teachers unions and other proponents spending nearly all of it – $60.9 million. Backers of the measure included Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Controller Betty Yee.

Spending for Proposition 53, which Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned against, came in at $21 million. Voters rejected the measure, which would have required voter approval for revenue bonds of $2 billion or more.

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