Citizen Ballot Initiatives no Match for Corporate Counter-Spending

Monday, February 09, 2015

The initiative process can be a way for citizens to bypass a state legislature and enact reforms. But businesses opposed to those initiatives have found that their financial resources can easily bulldoze a proposal.


Of the $266 million given by the top 50 donors to ballot measure groups in 2014, more than three-quarters came from corporate interests. Most of that money went to defeat citizen initiatives and it was well-spent—the corporations won 96% of the time, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).


The biggest such spender in the 2014 cycle was Mile High USA, which gave $19.8 million in an unsuccessful effort to get Colorado voters to approve a casino project. Of course, its main opponents in the election were the interests behind the casinos already operating in the state, which combined to give $16.3 million to defeat the proposal.


The second biggest spender was health insurance giant Anthem, which gave $13 million, all but a small amount of it to fight California’s Proposition 45, which would have required state approval to raise insurance rates. The measure lost.


Monsanto spent $10.7 million in Oregon and Colorado to defeat measures that would have required genetically modified food to be labeled as such. Both initiatives were defeated.


“There’s no question that when business or corporations or entities that are affected by ballot initiatives give to the ballot initiative process, they’re not doing so out of altruism,” Joe Tuman, a professor of political and legal communications at San Francisco State University, told CPI. “They’re doing so out of rational self-interest.”


Corporate money has resulted in the initiative process being turned upside down. “Ballot measures were originally created as a check on corporate influence in state legislatures,” said Justine Sarver, executive director of the progressive The Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. “Today, corporations use the process to pad their bottom line.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Big Business Crushed Ballot Measures in 2014 (by Liz Essley Whyte, Center for Public Integrity)


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