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Corporations Spent Nearly $140 Million in Eight State Ballot Initiative Races, Crushing the Opposition by as Much as 24-to-1

Sept. 28, 2016

Corporations Spent Nearly $140 Million in Eight State Ballot Initiative Races, Crushing the Opposition by as Much as 24-to-1

Study Shows Corporate Spending Overwhelming Democracy and Blocking Reforms on the November Ballot in California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and South Dakota

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Corporate-backed groups that are engaged in initiative and referendum campaigns have built up financial war chests that outmatch those of grassroots reform advocates by as much as 24-to-1, a Public Citizen analysis of state campaign finance data finds. On average, the corporate groups outmatched grassroots groups 10-to-1 in the races examined.

The report, “Big Business Ballot Bullies: In 2016 State Ballot Initiative Races, Corporate-Backed Groups’ Campaign War Chests Outmatch Their Opposition by an Average of 10-to-1,” examines eight ballot initiative races in California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and South Dakota. Total corporate spending in the eight races through mid-September was more than $139 million.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson spent the most, with each contributing more than $7 million toward defeating California’s Drug Price Relief Act, which seeks to lower prescription prices in that state. The industry-backed group opposing the measure has raised more than $86 million, giving it a 9-to-1 advantage over proponents.

Other top spenders include Anandarko Petroleum Corporation, which contributed $6.55 million toward defeating a Colorado initiative that would have required a set distance between oil and gas development and occupied structures. Opponents of the measure raised 24 times more than proponents; the measure ultimately did not qualify for the ballot.

In Florida, supporters of an initiative to expand access to rooftop solar are competing with a utility-backed decoy solar initiative. The utilities’ initiative qualified for the ballot, derailing the original solar initiative in the process. The group supporting the utility-backed solar initiative (Amendment 1 on the ballot), which would make it easier for energy utilities to restrict and raise costs for rooftop solar, has a 10-to-1 financial advantage. Duke Energy, which contributed $5.7 million to the fight, is a top spender.

Other initiatives examined had similar imbalances:

  • In California, plastics industry-backed groups seeking to repeal the plastic bag ban have raised more than double the groups trying to preserve the ban.
  • In Colorado, health insurance companies, led by Ohio-based Anthem Inc., are the top opponents of an initiative that would put in place a universal, single-payer style health care system. The insurance companies have a 6-to-1 advantage over the group supporting the amendment.
  • In Oregon, corporations are banding together to sink a tax on corporate gross receipts. Those opposing it include Albertsons-Safeway, Comcast, Equilon Enterprises (Shell) and Costco. These corporate opponents have raised three times more than the tax’s supporters.
  • In South Dakota, a Georgia-based short-term lender, Select Management Resources, is the sole funder of opposition to a ballot proposal to cap interest rates for all lenders. The corporation has outraised the initiative’s proponents 16-to-1.
  • Also in South Dakota, Select Management Resources is the sole funder backing an initiative of its own that would prevent any limit from being placed on interest rates lenders can charge, as long as the rate is agreed to in writing. The group registered to oppose it has so far reported no contributions.

“Grassroots ballot initiative campaigns that challenge corporate interests are facing uphill battles against corporate campaign war chests,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report. “The sheer magnitude of corporate money in these races undermines the power of ballot initiatives and referenda to make policy that prioritizes the public interest over private profits.”

“Across the country, and for more than a century, people have used initiatives and referenda to drive forward social and economic justice from the ground up,” added Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “Corporations spending outrageous sums to defeat ballot initiatives undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the public’s ability to make effective use of this long-standing American democratic institution.”

Read the report.