Hoping to capitalize on voter skepticism about campaign promises, alcoholic beverage interests began Tuesday spending $1 million on television advertising that attempts to link a beer, wine and liquor tax hike proposal with pledges made in the successful 1984 effort to pass a state lottery.
In one advertisement, a teacher looks into the camera and says, "Remember those promises about all that lottery money for schools? I wonder where it all went. Well, now they're at it again with this foolish proposition."
The lottery reference appears in one of three commercials that Taxpayers for Common Sense, an industry-funded organization, began airing statewide as part of a television advertising campaign to defeat Proposition 134. The proposal--called the "nickel-a-drink tax" by its supporters--would impose stiff new taxes on the industry and earmark revenue from them for programs relating to the treatment and prevention of alcohol and drug abuse. The industry is supporting another ballot measure, Proposition 126, which would impose a smaller tax and let the Legislature determine how the revenue would be spent.
Rick Manter, the organization's executive director, said the ads will run for two to four weeks, depending on how "well they wear."
"Political commercials wear out real fast," he said.
Supporters of Proposition 134, who read transcripts of the new commercials, labeled them "misleading," complaining that they erroneously suggest that most of the tax revenue would not go to alcohol-related programs as promised by the nickel-a-drink campaign.
"It (the revenue) all goes to a variety of programs carefully chosen by the people most concerned about alcohol abuse," said Rusty Selix, legislative representative for the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies and an author of the proposal.
Manter said the ads hope to take advantage of what political consultants believe is a general perception that the California Lottery has not solved the funding crisis in the schools as voters expected. At least 34% of lottery revenues automatically go to education, but they cover only about 3% of school costs.
"What we're trying to do with the commercial is to fold what is really a great skepticism over the promises made by promoters of initiatives with the reality that often followed them," Manter said.
To get its message across, Manter acknowledged, the alcoholic beverage industry will be able to outspend its opponents by millions of dollars. Taxpayers for Common Sense has already reported collecting $10.7 million and is expected to show an additional $2 million in reports to be filed next week.
Manter said most of the money will be spent on television and radio advertising that will be aired between now and the November election.
He said the campaign is starting its television advertising early so it won't be confused with other political advertising, particularly in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Pete Wilson.
"We're trying to get ahead and communicate a couple of messages very simply and clearly before the clutter starts," he said.
John Jervis, a public relations consultant for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said viewers tend to become confused about who is saying what when they have to see a succession of political advertisements.
"It's a much better sell if you're next door to a General Motors ad than if you're . . . sandwiched by Feinstein and Wilson," he said.