Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Mikaelsen Grace0
Money and Legislation
In the olden days when California legislation was controlled by cattle and railroad barons, citizens restless for more influence and control established the Ballot Initiative process back in 1911. Things went well with this new process for several years until special interest groups figured out they were citizens too, and aggressively began participating in the initiative process.
The original spirit of the Initiative is now lost as evidenced by the tens of millions of dollars of profits reaped in each election cycle by people gathering signatures on Initiative petitions and people helping to finance ballot measures. For example, 3 different people spent more than $90M each of their own money in the November 2012 election promoting Initiatives. Some of the donors remain a mystery, as in the Arizona group who put up $11M to help finance California ballot measures in November. Our Governor can’t even figure out where the money came from and who those donors really are. The other mystery many times, sadly, is that ballot measures are written by these big money interests in a way that most voters– even savvy, intelligent voters – can’t understand.
Monsanto spent over $8M to defeat Proposition 37, which was would have merely required labeling of genetically modified food – not outlaw it, not regulate it – just allow consumers to know that they are buying genetically modified food. Ninety-three percent of the $46M spent against 37, was from outside our state (Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico, Kraft, Bayer, Dow, BASF, CocaCola). Large corporations who make lots of money selling GMO products realize that if labeling changes in California, most food distributors will use those same labels in other states and so lots more consumers in the country would be aware of the content of their food than just California. The creepy thing is, why are these GMO corporations afraid of people knowing GMO products are contained in the food they buy? If GMO products are not risky – or flat out unhealthy – GMO corporations should not be afraid to acknowledge their products on the ingredients list. Hmmm… but I digress.
Since the Initiative process has become so money driven, you just have to hope some of the right people have the money to sponsor legislation that is for the greater good of our state. Tom Steyer spent $29.58M of his own money to pass Prop 39, which will generate $1B a year by no longer allowing multi state corporations to choose how they’re taxed – a choice no other state in the union allows. Energy efficiency – one of Tom’s causes – will benefit $500M a year from this measure and Tom argues that out of work construction workers will be hired to retrofit buildings to conserve more energy.
Tom Steyer recently quit his leadership role at the $20M Farallon Capital Management Companyand he signed the Warren Buffett-Bill Gates pledge to give half of his money to charity. In addition to energy efficiency, climate Change is another of Tom’s causes. His relationship with Consumer Watchdog in Santa Monica, who aggressively crusade against many rich people and politicians, gave Tom their annual public service award in 2011 because he funded the campaign to defeat Prop 23, the 2010 initiative backed by Texas based oil companies to unwind AB 32, California law to reduce greenhouse gases. This year Tom helped Consumer Watchdog by giving them $200K to help qualify an initiative to regulate health insurance that will be on the 2014 ballot.
Another example that all the big money isn’t bad is Charles Munger’s $71M contribution to the November 2012 election, $599K of which educated voters on the true nature of Prop 40, the very confusing referendum that got botched by legislatures and should have never appeared on the ballot.
So even though the Initiative process could use some improving, we all know that won’t happen overnight – if at all. In the meantime, fighting fire with fire, or more literally, fighting money with money may have to do. Thank goodness there are at least some wealthy people with good intentions.