Props 16 and 17: The Defeat of Corporate Politics

The voters' rejection of two statewide ballot measures might convince large corporations to think twice before attempting to game California's initiative process.

Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Jerry Brown may have garnered the most attention, but the June 2010 California Primary could go down as the election in which voters rejected dishonest corporate politics and disingenuous ads. The defeat of Propositions 16 and 17 also may convince large corporations that attempts to game California’s initiative process are extremely risky, and, ultimately, very costly endeavors.

No one knows that better than PG&E. In the weeks leading up to June 8, Pacific Gas and Electric Company blanketed the airwaves, the Internet, and newspapers with ads touting Prop. 16 as the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act.” PG&E boasted in advertisements and on its web site that a wide range of groups had endorsed Prop. 16. But while many groups voiced their support of the measure, only one of them — the California Chamber of Commerce — donated any money to the cause, and its relatively small contribution of $91,258 appears to have originated with PG&E. According to campaign finance reports, the chamber’s donation came right around the same time that PG&E contributed $250,000 to the chamber’s political action committee. Thus, the only real donor to the campaign appears to have been PG&E itself, which contributed a whopping $44.1 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports. No other taxpayer, consumer, or voters’ rights group appears to have donated a single dime to getting the measure passed.

To sum up, the Prop. 16 campaign was about one company — PG&E — trying to protect its monopoly by sponsoring and bankrolling a measure that would have made it nearly impossible for cities and counties to jump into the power market and increase their renewable energy use. It wasn’t the Taxpayers Right to Vote Act. It was PG&E’s Attempt to Keep Its Monopoly Act. And it lost by nearly 200,000 votes — 52 to 48 percent.

Similarly, the Prop. 17 campaign referred to itself as “Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates,” but a more accurate name would have been: “Mercury Insurance for Unfair Profits.” That’s because the only “Californian” who donated any significant amount of money to the campaign was Mercury Insurance Company, the sponsor of the initiative. According to the latest campaign finance reports, the state’s third-largest auto insurer donated $13.84 million to the campaign — representing 99.5 percent of the contributions received. The Prop. 17 campaign also could have billed itself as “Elect Republicans for Higher Mercury Profits.” Public records show that the Yes on 17 campaign helped finance at least seven Republican voter guides, most of them in Southern California. The GOP guides included “Continuing the Republican Revolution,” “Republican Woman’s Voice,” and “Orange County Republican Leadership Voters Guide.” In all, the Yes on 17 campaign donated $35,000 to mailers designed to boost Republicans and Prop. 17.

Republicans did just fine, but voters apparently saw through Prop. 17. It would have allowed Mercury to attract more customers with offers of discounts, while leading to higher rates for low-income motorists, more uninsured drivers, and, eventually, higher insurance rates for everyone else. It lost 52 to 48 percent as well.

Election Roundup

Ex-Assemblywoman Wilma Chan is returning to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors after easily defeating Alameda Mayor Bev Johnson, 56 to 30 percent. Chan replaces her former aide, Alice Lai Bitker, who is retiring. … Nadia Lockyer, the wife of state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, parlayed her husband’s cash into a November runoff against ex-state Senator Liz Figueroa for the other open seat on the board of supes. One of them will replace Gail Steele, who also is retiring. … Administrative law Judge Victoria Kolakowski won the most votes in the race for Alameda County Superior Court judge and will be in a November runoff against prosecutor John Creighton. Kolakowski, who would be the first transgendered superior court judge in the nation’s history, received 45 percent of the vote compared to Creighton’s 32 percent. … Berkeley’s Measure C, the $22 million swimming pool initiative, fell short of the necessary two-thirds vote, winning 61 percent of the ballots cast. … The future home of the Oakland Raiders may be in Santa Clara, following the decisive victory of a measure to build a new football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners and the NFL reportedly want the Raiders to share the new South Bay facility. … Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer won reelection with 56 percent of the vote. Chevron-friendly candidate Bob Brooks came in third with 14 percent. … And longtime prosecutor Mark Peterson won the most votes for Contra Costa County district attorney and will be in a November runoff against Dan O’Malley, the brother of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. Peterson received 48 percent compared to O’Malley’s 36 percent.

Three-Dot Roundup

After Don Perata pulled out of the first Oakland mayoral debate at the last minute, Councilwoman Jean Quan came out swinging at the former senator, saying that if she’s elected, Oakland City Hall will not be “for sale.” … The Oakland City Council denied a liquor permit for the North Oakland liquor store, Nic Nak Liquors, overturning a planning commission decision that had been plagued by racial politics. … The murder trial of Johannes Mehserle got underway after lawyers for the white ex-BART cop were successful in keeping blacks off the jury. The move angered the family of victim Oscar Grant, who was black.

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