Paul Jacob

While Californians recently celebrated the centennial of their state’s full-bodied system of citizen initiative and referendum, the Associated Press pushed a story headlined, “Corporations, wealthy dominate initiative process.”

“Insurance, oil, pharmaceutical and utility companies,” the article explained, “are among the well-funded interests that have spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years to promote their causes through California initiatives.”

Reporter Judy Lin gave specific examples:

• In 2010, Pacific Gas & Electric spent $46 million promoting Proposition 16, a measure to make it more difficult for localities to go into the utility business, thus competing with the company. PG&E’s massive bankroll swamped the opposition by an incredible margin of 161 to 1.
• Another measure on last year’s primary ballot, Prop 17, was funded almost entirely by $14.6 million from Mercury Insurance. The measure sought to allow auto insurance companies to offer discounts to their continuous customers.
• In 2008, T. Boone Pickens’s company contributed over $22 million to Proposition 10, outspending the ballot measure’s opponents 100-to-1. The initiative encouraged use of natural gas, which certainly would benefit the billionaire’s business interests.
• A 2006 ballot measure advancing a severance tax on oil production with the goal of funding alternative energy programs, Prop 87, was bankrolled with nearly $50 million dollars from real estate heir and Hollywood producer Steven Bing.

What the AP story by Ms. Lin did not emphasize, however, was that each of these big-spending corporate/rich-dude campaigns culminated in the same result: The voters defeated their ballot measure.

The millions spent didn’t sway the people.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.