Wednesday, November 9, 2016




          With more than 8,400 donors giving record amounts of money totaling more than half a billion dollars to campaigns for and against the 17 propositions on this month’s state ballot, one thing has become very clear: As the Beatles came close to saying in their classic song, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” money alone can’t buy you votes for or against an initiative.

          Sure, it’s always nice to have money, but you need a good idea and the advertisements you buy must be at least partially truthful, or you just won’t win.

Example A this month was what happened to Big Tobacco on Proposition 56, which won by close to a 60-40 percent margin despite its advocates being outspent more than 5-1.

          Part of the problem was that the moment voters looked at both the anti-56 ads and the actual proposition, they could see there was little evidence for oft-repeated tobacco company claims that adding $2 to the cost of a pack of cigarettes would somehow cheat schools out of $600 million. They don’t get that money now and won’t get it under Prop. 56, so it was hard to see how they could be cheated out of anything.

          Then there were voters simply offended by the fact tobacco companies like Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds were – oddly enough – the big bankrollers of the campaign to fight off a big tax on their sometimes deadly products. The No side on this one spent more than $90 million.

          “I saw the tobacco companies were against 56 and Big Pharma against Proposition 61 and voted yes for both,” said one Torrance voter aged in his mid-‘70s. His views were apparently not unique.

          Money did win for big pharmaceutical companies, whose no-on-61 campaign wasn’t as totally groundless as the tobacco industry effort against Prop. 56. Big Pharma spent even more than Big Tobacco – more than $120 million by the time all reports are in. That money came from companies like Pfizer, Amgen and two dozen others, often in chunks of well over $1 million and it was enough for a narrow victory.

          In fact, self-serving donors like these abounded in this election season, as they often do, and their results were mixed at best.

          There were, for example, big plastic bag makers headquartered in Texas, New Jersey and South Carolina who put up more than $20 million trying to preserve what was left of their California market by defeating Proposition 67. They lost on that one by a narrow 52-48 percent margin, but saw their Proposition 65 swipe at grocers go down by a larger margin.

          A contrarian example of relatively big money winning came with Proposition 57, Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to ease parole of convicts guilty of non-violent felonies, as defined in the criminal code. He spent almost $6 million from his personal political war chest on that one, and it won handily as Californians continued to recoil from their onetime proclivity to vote for almost any tough-on-criminals measure.

          Californians also went against what they perceived as censorship, voting down the Prop. 60 requirement that performers in hard sex movies use condoms on camera. Not much was spent for or against this measure, so it ended up as a referendum on what voters want in their off-color movies.

          There was also Proposition 64, which will bring major change to California by legalizing recreational marijuana use, whether the federal government likes it or not. Federal agents might still conduct raids on pot-growing plots, but most likely they now won’t get much help from local law enforcement.

          Then there was the death penalty, apparently still a popular cause in this state. Voters handily turned down Proposition 62, which would have ended the ultimate punishment and then approved Proposition 66, which speeds up the process.

          The bottom line on all these results: Money’s effects turned out to be largely unpredictable, as the bigger spenders lost about as many campaigns as they won. That’s something political consultants, who often get a cut of whatever their clients spend, won’t want anyone to remember two years from now.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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