Column: California's ballot measures will produce a deluge of special-interest cash

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

You can lay the hand-wringing about the failing condition of the American economy aside for a moment, because one sector is blazingly fat and likely to become even more so between now and Election Day.

We're talking about spending on California ballot measure campaigns.

Twelve measures will be on the state's November ballot. Some of them concern issues unrelated to any particular business' pocketbook. Those include measures devoted to voting rights (two measures would expand the franchise to parolees and 17-year-olds), affirmative action (repealing a 1996 Republican-sponsored measure that ended it in California), and a tough-on-crime stance that would reclassify some misdemeanor drug and property crimes as felonies.

But others will either make certain businesses more profitable or reduce or eliminate regulations on them. That's where the monetary rubber meets the road.

The big players thus far this year are the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft and the dialysis companies DaVita and Fresenius.

Proposals to raise property taxes on commercial real estate, to expand rent control laws and to renew the state's stem cell program have already attracted millions of dollars and are likely to fill ever-bigger moneybags in the next three months.


Thus far, contributions for and against the big-money initiatives are totaling more than $185 million.

Almost certainly that's an undercount, for some donations are hard to track. Initiative campaigns are conducted by political action committees and other entities whose role may not become clear until closer to the election.

Some have been collecting from donors for several years as their initiatives make their way through the legal qualification process, and those donations aren't always applied reliably to current disclosures. So the figures at hand are provisional, at best.

It's fair to predict, however, that spending on at least one or two of the dozen 2020 ballot measures could challenge the previous record of $172.7 million spent in 2008 on four California ballot propositions aimed at expanding Indian gaming in the state. Almost two-thirds of that money was spent in favor of the initiatives, which passed.


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