Donors pour record $458 million into California initiatives

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2016 file photo, Carolyn Channing joins others at a rally against Proposition 64 at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. If approved by California voters in November, Proposition 64 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Campaign reports show political donors have spent a record $450 million for and against 17 measures on California's November ballot, breaking the previous campaign spending record of $438 million set in 2008.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,file)
FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2016 file photo, Carolyn Channing joins others at a rally against Proposition 64 at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. If approved by California voters in November, Proposition 64 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Campaign reports show political donors have spent a record $450 million for and against 17 measures on California's November ballot, breaking the previous campaign spending record of $438 million set in 2008. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,file)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Political donors have spent a record $458 million on 17 statewide November ballot initiatives in California, beating the state’s own record for the most spent on propositions appearing on state ballots in a single year, campaign reports filed Thursday show.

The fundraising has soared at least $20 million past California’s previous record, when $438 million was spent on the campaigns for and against 21 measures on 2008 ballots. With inflation, fundraising in 2008 would be worth at least $490 million today.

No other state has come close to those amounts.

California is one of the few states that empower voters to enact laws affecting state revenue and spending. The proposals going before the state’s 18 million registered voters put billions of dollars at stake in this election.

“That’s big business,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles, who commented before the record was broken. She and other campaign finance experts stress that big money flows to the contests that will have the biggest financial impact and the final push to sway voters is likely to include a spending blitz.

“A lot of the oxygen is really being sucked up by the presidential race,” Levinson said. “For most voters, they’re just starting to think about the ballot measures.”

Proposition 61, a proposal to cap what the state pays for prescription drugs at the lowest price the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays, has drawn the biggest spending. Pharmaceutical companies have contributed most of the $108 million that’s been raised to defeat it, including $22 million publicly disclosed Thursday.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which placed it on the ballot, has spent about $14 million backing it.

Because Proposition 61 would not force drug companies to change their prices, the state legislative analyst says its fiscal effect on the $3.8 billion market is unknown.

Tobacco companies are among the other biggest spenders, contributing more than $66 million to oppose Proposition 56, a proposed $2 tax increase on every pack of cigarettes sold in the state. The California Hospital Association has spent more than $46 million opposing three measures that would affect funding for Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor.

Most of the funding has come directly from the corporations facing massive gains or losses to their own bottom line on Nov. 8.

“They’re called citizen initiatives because of who has to sign them, not necessarily who has to pay for them,” said Josh Altic, who directs research on ballot measures at Ballotpedia, an organization that aggregates electoral data from all 50 states.

Two of the biggest individual donors are Republican Charles Munger Jr., who has contributed more than $10 million to support Proposition 54, seeking greater legislative transparency, and Napster founder Sean Parker, who’s given about $7 million supporting the effort to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, Proposition 64.

The totals exclude money that’s transferred between allied campaigns as well as duplicate contributions recorded when one committee raised money for more than one proposition.

The record amount also includes about $50 million raised in 2014 for some of this year’s ballot measures. That money does not appear in some calculations the secretary of state’s office provides online.

Where does all the money go? The campaign reports show more than $40 million was used to pay signature-gatherers who circulated petitions to qualify each of the 14 initiatives and one referendum for the ballot. Two measures were placed on the ballot by lawmakers, a process that does not require signatures.

Overall, the reports show roughly $200 million has been spent on advertising and political consulting firms that coordinate research and media buys.

About $115 million was spent to air 76,000 broadcast television advertisements supporting and opposing California initiatives through Oct. 17, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity of data from Kantar Media/CMAG, which monitors media markets around the country and offers a widely accepted cost estimate. That figure does not include spending on cable TV, radio, online or mailers, nor the cost of producing ads.

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