Tobacco Money: The Ugly

California’s population makes up 12 percent of the total US population.  California has the second lowest smoking prevalence rate in the nation.  So why did tobacco industry spending on campaign contributions in California account for 71 percent of the total spending on campaign contributions in all 50 states combined?

A 2007 report, Tough Times for Tobacco, by the National Institute on Money in State Politics compares the spending of the tobacco industry in all 50 states during the 2005-2006 election cycle.  The results for California are staggering and not in a good way.  Out of the nearly $96 million total spent in all 50 states on contributions for state ballot measures, state level legislators and state party committees, more than two-thirds of that money ($68.59 million) was spent in California. 

Yes, this was the election cycle that featured Proposition 86 (the 2006 tobacco tax initiative that would have increased the state tobacco tax by $2.60 per pack) that accounts for the vast majority of this spending.  Not every state had a tobacco-related ballot measure on the ballot during this period, but even among the states that did, the tobacco industry spent far more in California.  The tobacco industry combined to spend more than $66 million in opposition to Proposition 86, compared to slightly more than $21 million combined in three other states (Arizona, Missouri and Ohio) with tobacco-related ballot measures. 

Looking at contributions to state level legislators and candidates, the results are not good for California either.  There was only one state, Virginia (home of Philip Morris), where total contributions to state level legislators and candidates were greater than in California.  Other than Virginia, the total contributions for only one other state (Illinois) were even within $250,000 of the $462,482 contributed to legislators in California.

This report came out in 2007.  It is now 2011 and things have not changed.  The Center’s latest Tobacco Money in California Politics report shows that the tobacco industry contributed more than $575,000 to members of and candidates for the California Legislature in the 2009-2010 election cycle.  And with the California Cancer Research Act appearing on the next statewide ballot, the tobacco industry is likely to spend tens of millions of dollars again attempting to influence voters in California.  

This post is Part 4 of a four-part blog series on tobacco industry spending in California in coordination with the Center’s recently released Tobacco Money in California Politics report.  See Part 1 for an overview of our report and the California Cancer Research Act, Part 2 for a look at contributions received by California Members of Congress and Part 3 for a comparison of spending by tobacco interests to other special interests.

— Justin Garrett

One Comment

  1. Jack Nicholl
    Posted Aug 8, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    I remember 2006. I was working on the California and Missouri tobacco tax campaigns where we were getting buried by the tobacco industry’s money; but I was also working in Arizona on an initiative requiring comprehensive restrictions on smoking in indoor public places and there was big tobacco money there too. We won in Arizona and lost in California and Missouri. Why? Some of it has to do with the money, but it’s not the whole story. Public support for smoke free environments is higher than support for taxation; the hospital association and provider sponsors of the tobacco tax initiatives in both states had a lot of baggage that made them and the initiative easy targets. Also what was in the two tobacco tax initiatives was extremely controversial whether it was the size of the tax in California ($2.60) or the use of the revenues to fund Medicaid programs in Missouri. Neither of these losing tobacco tax measures was what you would call a “clean” measure with the revenues from the tobacco tax matched cleanly with expenditures on tobacco control. In any event, I think we learned important lessons in California from that defeat of Prop 86. In the California Cancer Research Act measure which will be on next year’s ballot, we have a small tobacco tax ($1.00) matched with expenditures on cancer research and tobacco control, about as “clean” a measure as we’ve seen. Hopefully voters will recognize the need to keep California’s hard hitting tobacco control program funded and keep pushing that adult prevalence rate down. We’re at 11.9% of adults now, let’s get it below 10%!!

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