Money map shows labor’s fatal flaws in ballot battles

Maplight.org has just produced its exhaustive and very helpful breakdown of the influence game that was played out on the ballot measure battlefield this fall, which you can access here, and some numbers are worth looking at briefly here.

First a backdrop: Propositions 25 and 26 were both approved, which means lawmakers will be able to pass budgets on simple majority votes but they won’t be able to raise revenues — fees or taxes — without a two-thirds vote. So, essentially, the majority Democrats now have all the responsibility of getting budgets on time without the ability to raise revenues to balance the budget.

If you look at the interests behind each ballot measure, it is no surprise that you’ll find Democratic constituencies — labor groups — behind Prop. 25 and Republican allies — business groups — behind Prop. 26.

Labor groups contributed a lot of money — $10.8 million of the total $12.1 million spent on behalf of Prop. 25, and it paid off. Voters approved the majority vote initiative by a 54.8 percent to 45.2 percent vote. 

But here’s where the strategy of labor organizations is confounding. For Prop. 25 to have any teeth, it was essential to defeat Prop. 26. Yet, while the proponents of Prop. 26 were spending $18.3 million to get voters behind it, the opposition could only muster $6.3 million to kill it.

The top contributor to the anti-26 campaign, the state Democratic party, put in $1.3 million, while the powerful California Teachers Association offered up a piddling $500,000 (in addition to the $1.3 million it contributed to the Prop. 25 campaign).

Where did the CTA put most of its money? Into Prop. 24, the ballot measure that would have rescinded $2 billion in tax relief to corporations. The CTA contributed $8.9 million to that effort, which went down in flames, with 58.5 percent of voters rejecting it.

That money would have been much better spent convincing voters that Prop. 26 is a threat to vital fees that cover, among many important functions, the cost of environmental cleanup (not to mention the needed flexibility for putting together a budget balanced by cuts and revenues).

Instead, the CTA and other labor groups went off on a vengeful hunt for corporate dollars, losing sight of the real prize.

Steven Harmon

  • John W

    Prop. 26 is an unmitigated disaster. I’m sure that if enough money had been spent to explain the kinds of fees that would be covered and what the implications are, the voters would not have fallen for it. As it was, I suspect most voters thought Prop. 26 was just about preventing the legislature and local governments from using “fees” to get around the 2/3rds requirement for taxes. Jerry Brown will have to go back to the voters on this as part of an overall package for fixing Sacramento.