Money for nothing and other tales of how California propositions fared on election day
The slate of California ballot measures this fall attracted more than $700 million in contributions all told. Two of the three now leading by the widest margins spent the least. The measures that attracted the most money — dueling Propositions 26 and 27 to expand sports betting in California — are on their way to finishing at or near the bottom of the heap.
More than a half-billion dollars rolled into those sports betting campaigns, and what do they have to show for it? Proposition 26 is losing by a 70% to 30% margin. Proposition 27, the most expensive of the bunch, has pulled in a dismal 16% of the vote so far — the lowest amount in almost two decades in proposition-happy California.
The results, political veterans say, showed in part that voters know the difference between ballot measures that enrich the corporations and special interests bankrolling them and those that enrich and protect Californians without providing a windfall to their benefactors.
“Spending does not translate directly into votes,” said Sacramento State political scientist Kimberly Nalder. “It’s a good thing for democracy. It’s a hopeful sign that that votes can’t just be bought.”
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Voter cynicism played a factor
Proposition 27 would have allowed online sports wagering and was funded largely by gambling corporations, including sports gaming companies DraftKings and FanDuel. The campaign spent nearly $170 million to flood the television airways, invade social media feeds and lay siege to voters’ mailboxes. The campaign also had a sweetener — some of the gambling profits would be used to fund help for homelessness and gambling addiction.
“The claim to solve homelessness drove a lot of voter cynicism. They didn’t believe that,” said Rob Stutzman, a political consultant for a coalition of California Native American tribes who opposed Proposition 27.
The opposition made sure of it — launching a $245-million campaign to take it down. The withering attack was so effective that Proposition 27 proponents stopped running campaign ads in August, throwing in the towel.
“Any group of corporations that want to come into the state and pick a fight with an 800-pound gorilla that is popular with voters is in for a very difficult path, if not impossible,” Stutzman said. “These companies so underestimated the political equity and resolve of the California tribes to protect their sovereign ability to exclusively operate gaming in the state.”
But California’s wealthy gaming tribes also didn’t receive that much voter good will for their measure, Proposition 26, which would have allowed in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks. They poured $128 million into the campaign only to have their measure rejected by more than a two-to-one margin.
Nalder believes both propositions undercut each other with their relentless stream of campaign ads, mostly negative, which soured and confused voters to a point where it was just easier to dismiss both of them.
“They were just fed up,” she said.
Money isn’t everything
The big bucks donors, a relative term, behind two of the three propositions that have the best showing in the November election will almost assuredly receive credit and accolades — increasing their stature in California and possibly even benefiting them politically — but stood nothing to gain financially.
The campaign for Proposition 28, which would increase funding for music and arts education by $1 billion a year, raised just $10.7 million and is far ahead by a margin of 62% to 38%. (The final tally for everything on the statewide ballot will not be certified by the secretary of state until Dec. 16.)
Proposition 1, which enshrined the right to have an abortion into the California Constitution, is ahead by an even wider vote margin — 65% to 35% — and supporters raised $14.7 million. That’s a lot of money, but a pittance compared with the amount poured into the sports gambling measures.
The biggest donor behind Proposition 28 was former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent and Los Angeles Times publisher Austin Beutner, who contributed $4.3 million. For Proposition 1 it was the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which provided $5 million.
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Money isn’t everything II
Proposition 30 provided another example of how a gusher of cash may not be enough to convince Californians to vote yes, especially when there is an influential opposition campaign. The measure would have increased taxes on multimillionaires to raise money for subsidizing electric vehicle purchases and for the charging stations and other infrastructure they required. Twenty percent of the money raised also would have gone to wildfire prevention and suppression.
For the record:
10:13 a.m. Nov. 12, 2022An earlier version of this newsletter stated that supporters of Proposition 30 outspent opponents of the measure by a five-to-one margin. According to the California Secretary of State’s most recent numbers, supporters spent $44 million and opponents spent $26 million.
The proponents of the measure outspent the opposition, but it’s losing by a 41% to 59% margin.
The measure had been leading in early pre-election polls, but that was before an opposition campaign led by Gov. Gavin Newsom began blasting Proposition 30 as “corporate welfare” for ride-hailing company Lyft. The company bankrolled the measure, donating nearly $48 million.
The ride-hailing company is subject to a new state law that will require most of its fleet to run on electric power by 2030. Those cars are not owned by Lyft, but by drivers who contract with Lyft, yet Newsom argued electric vehicle subsidies still would provide a major benefit to the bottom line of Lyft and other ride-hailing companies.
Dan Newman, a Newsom advisor and one of the political consultants to the Proposition 30 opposition campaign, said Newsom’s credibility among California voters on the issues of the environment and climate change proved to be more valuable than the tens of millions Lyft poured in. In doing so, Newsom broke from his own political party, which had endorsed the measure.
“He took a risk that he didn’t need to take and earned a great deal of credibility on climate and fiscal responsibility,” Newman said.
Ann Ravel, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission and California Fair Political Practices Commission, agreed that California’s voters rightfully tend to be weary of big companies spending big money on ballot measures. But she also thought Newsom misled voters. Lyft would not have received a huge financial windfall from Proposition 30, but millions of Californians who wanted to purchase electric vehicles, most of whom don’t drive for Lyft, Uber or other ride-hailing companies, would have, she said.
“I thought that Newsom was a little disingenuous in saying how awful it was that this corporation was benefiting. Well, they weren’t, right,” Ravel said.
Ravel also noted that Newsom’s opposition campaign also would placate one of governor’s most influential political supporters — the California Teachers Assn. Teachers unions opposed the measure, fearing the financial carve-out might affect state funding for schools.
California politics lightning round
— Karen Bass cuts into Rick Caruso’s slim lead in L.A. mayor’s race.
— Alex Padilla made history with his U.S. Senate win. What it means for Latinos.
— Big day for California Democrats running statewide; bad day for big-money ballot measures.
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