Capitol Alert

Plastic bag referendum tallies $5 million in contributions

Plastic bag companies and their allies have pitched in more than $5 million to qualify two November ballot measures they hope will kill a statewide ban on their product and prevent grocery stores from benefiting from the sale of bags.

In 2014, lawmakers banned single-use bags at grocery stores, pharmacies, smaller markets and convenience stores in the state. The law was slated to take full effect on July 1, 2016.

The plastic bag industry pushed back and petitioned to overturn the law through a voter referendum on the November 2016 ballot. The initiative qualified for the ballot in February. The referendum suspends the law from going into effect until after voters weigh in.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a campaign committee pushing the referendum, has raised more than $5 million in contributions since late 2014 –nearly $2 million of it in the last 14 months, according to regulatory filings.

Nearly all of the money has gone to signature gathering. In addition to collecting signatures for the referendum, the alliance is also leading a ballot measure that would direct fees from grocery bag sales to environmental projects.

In February, proponents of the bag sales initiative reported that they received 25 percent of the 365,880 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. The group must collect all of the signatures by June 6.

Hilex Poly Co., a South Carolina-based plastic bag manufacturer, has given the alliance $2.4 million since late 2014. Formosa Plastics Corp., a New Jersey company that specializes in plastic resins and chemicals, contributed $1.1 million in the same period.

The alliance spent $801,000 last year and nearly $3.3 million in 2014 on the campaigns, according to filings.

Meanwhile California vs. Big Plastic, the campaign committee behind the effort to ban plastic bags, has received $434,000 in contributions since 2014. Albertsons gave $150,000 and the California Grocers Association Issues Committee donated $100,000 to the pro-ban campaign. California vs. Big Plastic has spent $256,000 thus far.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna