It's by no means a perfect way to measure the eventual outcome at the polls, but money often talks loudest in campaigns for or against ballot measures in California. And at this juncture, the money recorded in publicly filed fundraising reports has some interesting things to say.
In a nutshell: tobacco is king... and Governor Jerry Brown's dialing for dollars is paying off.
First, a look at the two initiatives on the June 5 statewide primary ballot. Neither has received much attention -- in part, perhaps, because of all the focus on the looming November initiative war.
When it comes to money, one June campaign stands out: opposition to the Proposition 29 tobacco tax increase.
Prop 29 seeks to add $1 in taxes to each pack of cigarettes sold in California, with the money (backers estimate $700 million a year) earmarked for cancer research. As you might expect, the battle lines here are drawn largely between anti-smoking groups and Big Tobacco.
The main campaign in support of Prop 29 has had only one significant contributions so far in 2012, a $1.5 million check from cycling champion Lance Armstrong. The campaign reported less than $250,000 in cash at the end of 2011, and will clearly need more big bucks like those from Armstrong... as the anti-Prop 29 campaign has come in with guns blazing. In just the first eight weeks of 2012, the campaign collected $12 million -- most of which came from two large checks, one from Altria/Philip Morris ($7 million) and one from R.J. Reynolds ($3 million).
The only other initiative on the June ballot (thanks, in part, to last fall's controversial decision to boot all pending measures to November) is Proposition 28, the long-debated modification to the state's term limits law for members of the Legislature. If approved by voters, future legislators would be allowed to serve up to 12 years in either the Assembly or Senate -- thus eliminating the current practice of politicians jumping from one chamber or the other and get a full 14 years of service under the Capitol dome.
As of now, the Prop 28 campaign has an empty gas tank. Fundraising has largely been dormant since its backers missed their original target of the November 2010 ballot campaign records show only about $11,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2011. But Democratic consultant Douglas Herman, who's working on the campaign, says fundraising efforts are underway and may include some of the groups that have been talking about government reform in recent years. Official records don't show an opposition campaign committee as of now, though backers of the existing term limits law are unlikely to let voters consider Prop 28 without a rebuttal.
The real money moves, though, are on the tax increase initiatives targeted for the November 6 ballot. The most active fundraiser, perhaps not surprisingly, is Governor Brown. This morning, his campaign for a temporary sales/income tax increase reported some $632,000 in new donations, bringing the total to date close to $3.5 million. Labor unions and Indian gaming tribes continue to dominate the cash reports, and Brown's dialing for dollars has netted an average of $45,000 a day. That will no doubt need to increase to run a full fall campaign.
By comparison, the campaign to qualify a millionaire's tax for the November ballot has raised $915,000 with almost all of the money coming from the California Federation of Teachers, whose union leaders have been getting a lot of pressure by Brown and others to step aside... something that certainly would have been unpopular at Monday's big higher education protest at the Capitol.
The other income tax initiative, written and championed by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, won't need to be watched for whether it has the resources to get on the ballot... because it does, thanks to Munger herself. The wealthy Pasadena activist has pledged to spend "whatever it takes" to not only gather voter signatures on her initiative, but to run the fall campaign itself.