Donations From Out of State Fuel Races
Businesses across nation try to sway California voters
Out-of-state interests have poured more than $280 million
into California political campaigns since 2001, and the
November election will send that figure soaring.
While that number is dwarfed by the $1.4 billion California
residents, unions and businesses have spent on candidates
and ballot measures, it shows just how much state
politicians depend on big contributions from beyond the
borders, said Michael Lighty, a spokesman for the
Proposition 89 campaign financing initiative.
"The contributions from Middlesex County, New Jersey, are
larger than those from Kern County,'' Lighty said. "You
have national and international interests funding
California Assembly races.''
Middlesex County is the home of Johnson & Johnson and
other pharmaceutical companies involved in last fall's
high-priced ballot battle over discounts for prescription
drugs. Since 2001, donors from that county have given $10.2
million to California campaigns, compared to $7.5 million
in contributions from Kern County businesses and residents,
Prop. 89, which backers call the clean-money initiative,
would raise $200 million a year to provide public financing
for every statewide and legislative campaign. It would
slash the limits for individual contributions and bar
candidates who accept public money from taking any outside
The spending figures, which the Prop. 89 backers compiled
from campaign finance reports filed with California's
secretary of state between Jan. 1, 2001, and May 20, 2006,
also illustrate just how much special interest money flows
into political campaigns, Lighty said.
While 2004 figures list Sacramento County as the state's
eighth-largest by population, the county is far and away
the leader when it comes to political money. With 1.3
million residents, it has given $441 million to candidates
and ballot measures, while sprawling Los Angeles County,
with nearly 10 million residents, contributed $287 million
to races in the state.
High on the list is the District of Columbia, which joins
Sacramento as the address for many of lobbyists, unions,
businesses and political organizations that gave to
politicians in the state.
"We're trying to show who it is that's actually funding
campaigns in California,'' said Lighty, who also is
director of public policy for the California Nurses
Association, the prime backer of Prop. 89. "It's important
for the people of California to know who is spending and
But opponents say Prop. 89 and its supporters are better at
identifying problems than at providing solutions.
"No one is saying that there are no problems with the way
California campaigns are financed,'' said Robin Swanson, a
spokeswoman for Californians to Stop 89. "We're saying that
Prop. 89 is not the answer and will only make a bigger
The anti-Prop. 89 forces include an unusual coalition of
business interests and unions, groups that just last year
spent tens of millions of dollars attacking each other in
November's special election. But businesses and unions fear
that the proposed $10,000 limit on contributions to ballot
measures, combined with other spending restrictions in
Prop. 89, would squeeze them out of the state's political
While the California Teachers Association spent more than
$50 million last November to fight a package of initiatives
backed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 61 percent
of the money supporting Schwarzenegger's measures came from
wealthy individuals, said Swanson, who worked with the
teachers union last year.
Businesses and groups such as the teachers union could be
bound by the new contribution limits, but Prop. 89 places
no limit on the amount of money a person can spend on his
own campaign or use to support a ballot measure. The U.S.
Supreme Court has ruled that type of spending is protected
by the First Amendment.
"How do you solve a problem by only dealing with a part of
it?" Swanson asked.
While Prop. 89 would provide candidates running under the
clean money rules with public funds to match the cash that
a wealthy candidate puts into his own campaign, the measure
would put few restrictions on what an individual spends on
a ballot measure.
Stephen Bing, a Hollywood producer and longtime contributor
to Democratic and environmental causes, already has put
$26.5 million of a promised $40 million of his own money
into Prop. 87, a November initiative that would raise taxes
$4 billion on oil companies drilling in California to
finance development of alternative energy sources. But
while Prop. 89 would not restrict Bing's spending, it would
limit Chevron, which has spent around $19 million to fight
the initiative, to no more than $10,000 in direct corporate
The contributions from Bing and Chevron are part of a
torrent of special interest money that has flooded into
California for the November election.
The Yes on 89 campaign put together a list of the 20
largest campaign contributions made in California between
2001 and May of this year. They ranged from the $14.2
million donation the Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers group put into the fight against discount
prescription drugs last year down to the $5 million that
state Controller Steve Westly put into his own campaign for
governor during this year's Democratic primary.
That list is already dramatically outdated. Since the June
election, there have been at least nine new contributions
of more than $5 million, led by a $13.8 million donation
from Philip Morris and $10 million from R.J. Reynolds, of
out-of-state tobacco companies that have each put up more
than $20 million to fight Prop. 86, which would boost the
state tax on cigarettes by $2.60 a pack.
Other super-size spenders include Bing, Chevron, the
California Hospital Association and Aera Energy, a company
jointly owned by Shell Oil and ExxonMobil.
See the article on San Francisco Chronicle website