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 benefitting 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.
Ballots in front of California voters on Tuesday included the presidential primary, a U.S. Senate primary, some U.S. House primaries, two state ballot measures, and several other district elections. Perhaps because the presidential primary has been decided, only 24 percent of registered voters turned out. Those who did, voted 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent to defeat the measure, according to official unconfirmed results.
California has the second lowest percentage of smokers in the country, so arguably the tax wouldn't have affected most voters. Craig Jespeth, a 43-year-old nurse from Glendale, voted against the proposition because, he told the Associated Press, "I hope we don't get any more taxes. That's pretty much it."
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow summed it up: "All it takes is unlimited corporate money."