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Money Pours In For California Ballot Measure Contests


07/18/16 UPDATE (AP) - Tobacco companies are giving about $17 million to defeat a proposed cigarette tax that's quickly attracting some of the highest spending among the initiatives on California's November ballot.

More than three months before the general election, $186 million has poured in for and against the 17 propositions on California's November ballot, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s website.

That includes $70 million raised by pharmaceutical companies against Proposition 61, a measure to control drug costs. Supporters of the measure have collected $9 million.

Other initiatives attracting a lot of cash are: Proposition 56, a proposed tobacco tax with $16 million raised by supporters; and Proposition 55, an effort to extend a tax on high-income earners to fund education and health care. Proponents have collected $19 million for that initiative. As of mid-July, no money had been raised against those propositions.

Experts who watch this large flow of money say it can distort the facts about what the measures will do, particularly when there’s a big gap in money raised between supporters and opponents.

“It really distorts the political process,” said Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that examines money’s influence on politics. “The messaging you get is distorted by who spends the most money.”

When there’s a 7-to-1 advantage in money available for campaign advertisements: “Citizens can’t be expected to make a fully informed, thoughtful decision if the access to information is so uneven,” Newman added.

The campaigns say California’s large size and expensive media markets force them to raise a lot of money.

Kathay Feng, who heads the government accountability group California Common Cause, points out that money doesn’t always make the difference. Voters tend to oppose most measures.

“Having a little bit of money on the ‘No’ side, can oftentimes overcome even a well-funded Yes side,” Feng said.

She added that voters deserve credit for their ability to sort out the truth in the ballot measure arguments.

“California voters are increasingly becoming very savvy not only about what the ads are telling them that a proposition is about but also who is behind the ads and where the money is coming from,” Feng said. 

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