Prop 29 explainer: Funding, advertising and voters

Written by
By League of Women Voters via Flickr

Nearly $60 million has been spent to fund campaigns for and against Proposition 29, which aims to increase taxes on cigarettes by $1 per pack. The new tax revenue – expected to total about $735 million – would be placed in a fund to finance research of tobacco-related diseases and prevention programs. And the new fund would be administered by a nine-member committee.

While only Californians can vote on the proposition, money has flowed in from stakeholders outside the state to get voters to pay attention to the proposition. Even  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has chimed in, opening his checkbook to the tune of $500,000 for advocates of the measure.

Even with Bloomberg’s support, opponents of the bill are outspending supporters more than four to one, according to Maplight, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog. They’ve raised $46.7 million, 82.8 percent of which has been donated by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

The measure’s supporters have only raised $11.2 million. Their biggest donors, the American Cancer Society and Lance Armstrong Foundation, account for 80.2 percent of their funding.

Proposition 29 advocates have received prominent endorsements from the Sacramento Bee and University of California. The Sacramento Bee’s editorial page said the measure is imperative “to discourage smoking and save lives… It must again overcome the specious arguments and hired guns of the tobacco barons.”

Americans for Tax Reform and the Los Angeles Times opposed the measure. This is from the LA Times editorial page:  “…this initiative takes perfectly good tax money and misspends it; we’d rather see an alternative proposal that hikes the cigarette tax but spends the money more wisely.”

In March, 67 percent of likely voters supported the bill, according to a poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. However, a May PPIC poll reported that the measure has lost some ground, with support falling 14 points between March and May. PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare said the opposition’s media campaign, which aired several ads with doctors expressing concerns about the initiative, was a large factor in the favorability shift. (Video below).

Supporters of the proposition have also launched ads, one of which attacks “big tobacco” for misleading advertising.

“The large drop in support for Proposition 29 speaks loudly about how a well-funded opposition is able to raise voters’ doubts and distrust in state government, even when a tax increase is viewed favorably,” Baldassare said in a news release.