What’s on your ballot this election day? And who’s likely to be affected by your decisions – beyond, that is, the politicians who have been lobbying fiercely for your vote for lo these many months?
Citizens of 41 states and the District of Columbia will be asked to decide on a motley array of ballot initiatives on Tuesday. A total of 146 measures are up for decision, some because citizens themselves rounded up enough support to get them there, others because policymakers want citizens to rule on particularly thorny or important issue such as, say, legalizing the sale of marijuana or boosting the minimum wage.
That figure is actually down slightly, from 176 ballot questions in 38 states in 2012, when Maine and Maryland voters gave the go-ahead to same-sex marriage and Massachusetts turned thumbs-down on physician-assisted suicide.
In many ways, these ballot questions can leave you feeling that you’ve had a greater impact than by voting for that polished politician with his carefully groomed image and focus group-tested campaign promises. Odds are, you’ll also be affecting life for a variety of corporate citizens. They certainly think so, judging by the millions of dollars that they and their industry associations are pouring into some of these state or community-specific battles, figures that sometimes can dwarf what even a well-heeled congressional candidate ends up spending. And if the number of ballot measures is down, that spending is up.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the hot-button issues being determined at the ballot box in various states, and the companies whose interests are at stake.
- Measure 92 in Oregon to require labeling of genetically-modified foods
- Proposition 105 in Colorado, requiring GMO labeling
Companies affected: Monsanto, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Hormel Foods and a who’s who of food products businesses
This is a classic David vs. Goliath battle, with the agribusiness folks contributing north of $11 million to battle the initiatives and proponents relying more on endorsements from the likes of Ben & Jerry’s to help them inform and sway public opinion; they haven’t raised enough to buy radio or television airtime in Colorado.
- Constitutional Amendment 3 in Alabama, defining the right to bear arms as fundamental
- Constitutional Amendment 5 in Missouri, covering the same ground
- Initiative 591 in Washington, a gun rights measure preventing the government from confiscating weapons without due process or requiring background checks
- Initiative 594 in Washington, requiring background checks on all firearms transactions, including private sales
Companies affected: Sturm, Ruger; Smith & Wesson; sports equipment retailers
The rival Washington initiatives are particularly amusing, since there’s at least a theoretical possibility that both will pass, leaving lawmakers to figure out just how to conduct background checks that they are banned from conducting. There’s a chance exasperated voters will simply throw up their hands and not vote on either.
- Question 3, Massachusetts, on whether to repeal a 2011 law allowing resort gambling in the state. Voting yes would mean no casinos in the state.
- Newport Grand Gaming in Rhode Island. This has spawned two statewide initiatives, with Question 1 on expanding the roster of games offered, and Question 2, which would ensure the Newport Grand can’t move from its current location without receiving specific approval.
- Amendment 68 in Colorado is worded as a tax amendment, asking for authorization to boost taxes on gaming at horse tracks to increase education funding. It actually opens the doors for horse-racing tracks to offer casino-style games.
Companies affected: Twin Rivers Casinos, Wynn Resorts Ltd., Penn National Gaming Inc., MGM Resorts International
Five other states have gaming initiatives on their ballots this year, but it’s the Colorado one that is pulling in the big dollars from corporate supporters, while the Massachusetts campaign is using all the leverage possible (most of the commonwealth’s clergy have been vocal advocates of reversing course) to roll the clock back. Meanwhile, Steve Wynn just won a sought-after license to build a resort casino for the Boston area.
- Question 2, Massachusetts, expands the beverage container deposit law
- Proposition E, San Francisco, would impose a 2 cents/ounce tax on sugary sodas and other drinks
Companies affected: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, other drink manufacturers
And you thought some of these issued died when the courts fought off Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to force New York moviegoers to give up their jumbo sodas! Fugheddaboutit. Ground zero just shifted to the other side of the country, where the American Beverage Association is spending heavily to convince citizens that such measures are an infringement on their rights to consume whatever quantities of sugar they want. They’re also battling the Massachusetts proposal, which would be a big win for bottle scavengers.
- Proposition 45, California, would give state officials the ability to veto health insurance rate increases they see as egregious for individuals or small group plans
Companies affected: Kaiser Permante, WellPoint, BlueShield of California, the entire insurance industry
Just because insurers are now required to offer health insurance plans to Americans doesn’t mean that the prices are going to be as affordable as many of us would like. Which is precisely how and why Prop 45 ended up on the California ballot – and the insurance industry has funneled more than $55 million into defeating it. Protestors in favor of the initiative tried to deliver buckets full of steer manure (you do the translation) to CEOs of some of the insurance giants during a gathering at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. There are high stakes here.
- Four Ohio towns, one Texas town and three California counties have ballot measures seeking to ban fracking.
Companies affected: Energy giants like Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Occidental Petroleum
If there is an industry as unpopular as health insurance, it’s probably energy, and specifically companies that use “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, to extract crude oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock formations. Proponents argue that fracking is a way to make the United States self sufficient in energy; opponents point to environmental hazards. Dueling pro- and anti-fracking resolutions were kept off the ballot by a last-minute compromise in Colorado, but these other initiatives will go forward and the industry views these small campaigns as akin to product liability suits – one win will encourage activists to ramp up their efforts with every year that passes. That’s why Santa Barbara County’s Measure P is one of the most costly battles in the country this year.
The real excitement when the polls close could come from the results on some of these ballot initiatives. Certainly, given the amount of gridlock in Washington, many of them are likely to result in far more real change than most of the politicians who will be sent off to the hallowed halls of Congress.
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