Big Tobacco Cash Floods California Election; Results Still 'Too Close to Call'

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Common Dreams

Big Tobacco Cash Floods California Election; Results Still 'Too Close to Call'

$47 Million Convinced 17 Percent of California Voters to Change Their Minds

by
Common Dreams staff

Proponents of the $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes on Tuesday’s state ballot refused to concede Thursday night, saying they still hope to overcome the current 1.4% margin of defeat as elections officials tally an estimated 1 million uncounted ballots.

Tobacco companies worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to try to defeat the ballot measure. Before a $47 million ad blitz by the tobacco industry, a March 2012 poll showed that 67 percent of likely California voters supported the measure, while 30 percent did not and 3 percent were undecided.

The measure, Proposition 29, was behind by 63,000 votes on election night. But as vote tallies continued to trickle in, as of Thursday night the lead had shrunk to 55,000 votes.

Four million Californians cast ballots in Tuesday's election, but it is estimated that over 1 million of the ballots remain to be counted by the July 6 deadline.

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CNN reports:

Despite headlines saying that it lost Tuesday's vote, the fate of California's proposed $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes is still in limbo, and state officials said late Thursday that a final result is likely weeks away.

"Supporters of Prop 29 are not conceding defeat...This race is still too close to call, and we remain hopeful that the victory will ultimately be ours."The tax increase, known as Proposition 29, would raise an estimated $735 million a year, with roughly three-quarters of that money going to cancer research.

Initial results showed Prop 29 being rejected by a margin of roughly 65,000 votes, out of nearly 4 million cast -- a margin of 50.8% to 49.2%. However, the results don't yet include a vast number of mail-in ballots and provisional ballots.

As of Thursday night, at least 829,863 votes were yet to be counted, according to figures posted by California's Secretary of State. The real figure is likely much higher, as the official "uncounted" number leaves out several counties that have yet to send their data. [...]

As more results trickled in by Thursday night, the margin had shrunk to less than 53,000 votes. Or as one Bay Area Weekly joked, "Proposition 29 results are close enough to make you want to chain smoke."

"Supporters of Prop 29 are not conceding defeat," vowed Doug Ulman, CEO of the Lance Armstrong-founded Livestrong organization. "We will closely monitor the counting of late absentee and provisional ballots... This race is still too close to call, and we remain hopeful that the victory will ultimately be ours."

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The Center for Media and Democracy reports:

Think Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and special interests supporting him spent a lot in the Wisconsin recall race, at $45 million? Well, tobacco companies spent even more to defeat the ballot measure to raise California's cigarette taxes. How much? $47 million.

The ballot measure, Proposition 29, would have raised California's cigarette tax from its current 87 cents a pack -- half the national average -- to $1.87 a pack. This would still only have been the 16th highest cigarette tax in the country. The revenue created would have financed cancer research and smoking prevention programs.

Ad Campaign Said Tax Money Would Be Spent Outside the State

Some of the ads purchased by the tobacco companies claimed that the measure wouldn't do anything to address California's budget deficit, a red herring since it was never intended to do that. Others claimed that the money raised by the new tax could be spent outside the state and that taxpayers and doctors opposed it.

Supporters of the measure contend that the measure would generate more than $700 million a year for research on cancer and other smoking-related diseases as well as funding California's tobacco cessation and prevention programs, thereby benefiting all Californians.

Opponents of the tax were led by Altria/Philip Morris and Reynolds American, both of which are prominent members of the corporate bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has a long history of assisting the tobacco industry, as CMD has reported.

The tobacco companies formed two independent expenditure groups: Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending, and California Citizens Against Wasteful Taxes. Altria gave the groups $27.5 million as of June 5th, while Reynolds American subsidiaries gave the groups $12.9 million.

$47 Million Convinced 17 Percent of California Voters to Change Their Minds

In March 2012, 67 percent of likely California voters supported the measure, while 30 percent did not and 3 percent were undecided.

That was before the $47 million ad blitz by the tobacco industry. [...]

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow summed it up: "All it takes is unlimited corporate money."

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