California ballot propositions rake in a record $473 million in campaign cash

This year’s crop of state propositions, the most appearing on a California ballot in 16 years, has attracted campaign contributions of $473 million, a record.

By comparison, a Times review of campaign finance reports and daily campaign disclosures found total contributions to the 17 ballot measure campaigns are roughly twice what Republican candidate Donald Trump has reported raising for his presidential campaign. The Times review includes cash donations to campaigns, as well as non-monetary donations like staff time and even loans that are expected to be repaid.

The total is on pace to break the previous record from 2008, when ballot measures generated $471 million in contributions, according to data since 2003 compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Ballot measure campaigns: $1 million a day

On average, more than $1.5 million has been raised every day this year to influence the outcome of propositions on the November ballot. In the last few weeks, the rate of donations has increased dramatically. On Oct. 19, ballot measure committees reported a one-day total of more than $24 million in donations.

More than a third of the money has come from tobacco and pharmaceutical companies

The two most expensive measures are the ones potentially most damaging to the profits of the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries.

Pharmaceutical companies have been the force behind the campaign to defeat Proposition 61, an initiative to influence prescription drug costs. At more than $109 million, it's one of the most expensive ballot measure campaigns in California history, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Proposition 61 would limit state government spending on prescription drugs to the prices paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Because the VA typically negotiates the lowest prices for prescription drugs of any public or private entity, the measure’s supporters say they hope to curb rising drug costs paid by the state.

Drug companies and trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have provided almost all the funding. Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are the top three contributors to defeating Proposition 61.

Tobacco companies have mounted the second largest campaign cash effort this season in their bid to defeat Proposition 56, which would impose a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes. Tobacco giant Philip Morris alone has spent more than $44 million to oppose the measure.

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Hospitals and teachers have poured in a lot of money, and so have several wealthy Californians

The California Hospital Assn. and the California Teachers Assn. have both contributed millions to support an income tax proposal to finance schools, healthcare and other government programs. The groups have each donated more than $20 million to support Proposition 55, which would extend current income tax rates on wealthy Californians that are set to expire in 2018.

The hospitals group has donated another $10 million to Proposition 56, the tobacco tax increase, and has also partnered with healthcare organizations to fund the majority of the nearly $60-million campaign to support Proposition 52. If passed, that proposal would make permanent a program to help fund Medi-Cal, the state’s subsidized healthcare program for low-income residents.

Several wealthy donors are also spending millions to influence November ballot measures. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager and potential 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has donated more than $11 million to ballot measure campaigns this cycle. Most of his money has gone to Proposition 56, but he’s also contributed to Proposition 55, death penalty repeal measure Proposition 62, prison parole initiative Proposition 57 and bilingual education measure Proposition 58.

Palo Alto physicist Charles Munger Jr. has donated more than $10 million to Proposition 54, a measure requiring legislative bills at the state Capitol to be in print for three days before lawmakers can give final approval. Former Facebook president Sean Parker has contributed more than $8 million to support Proposition 64, the campaign to legalize marijuana.

Gov. Jerry Brown has made a last-minute push for his parole proposition and against another to impose new rules on state borrowing

In the final weeks before the election, the governor has devoted time and resources to two measures in particular: Proposition 53 and Proposition 57.

Last month, Brown used his 2014 gubernatorial campaign account to donate more than $4 million to defeat Proposition 53, which would require voter approval before the sale of revenue bonds of $2 billion or more, the kind of bonds used to fund large infrastructure projects. Brown also appears in a new television ad opposing the measure.

Proposition 57, Brown’s measure to make more prisoners eligible for parole, has also received a recent influx of cash. In the last 15 days, more than $2 million has been donated to the initiative.

Millions of dollars have been contributed to multiple campaigns and shuffled among ballot measure committees

Many ballot measure committees have raised money for more than one campaign, making it difficult to say exactly how much has been raised to support or oppose each individual measure.

For example, campaign finance filings show $16 million has been raised to support Proposition 62, a measure to repeal the death penalty. But most of that money is from a committee also dedicated to opposing Proposition 66, which would expedite executions of death row inmates.

In total, more than $24 million has been raised by committees supporting multiple ballot measures. The Times analysis of campaign contributions counts any money used to support multiple measures just once.

There are also multiple political action committees in this election cycle that are registered to support or oppose a single measure. Eight committees are registered in support of Proposition 64, and those committees often contribute money to one another.

One of those committees, known as “Drug Policy Action,” has reported more than $4 million in contributions this year. But the group has donated all of its money to other campaign committees supporting the measure. This complicates tracking how much actual money has been donated to each campaign. The Times analysis excluded any money contributed from one committee to another in support of the same proposition. The National Institute on Money in State Politics does not factor out such contributions in its totals from previous years.

sophia.bollag@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @SophiaBollag.

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