By Reid Wilson
The Washington Post
Corporations and some of the wealthiest Americans spent more than $1 billion over the past 18 months on ballot initiatives in just 11 states, according to campaign finance data, an explosion of money used to pass new laws and influence the public debate.
The initiative process was originally aimed at giving citizens the chance to break the hold that corporations had on state legislatures, but it is increasingly being used in reverse: Corporations and wealthy individuals are backing measures to get around reluctant legislatures.
The hardest-fought measure this year was in Washington state, where corporations spent more than $27 million on Initiative 522, which would have required labels on food that included genetically modified ingredients.
Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, an organic producer, contributed $2.2 million of the $7 million spent in support of the initiative.
But supporters were easily outspent by the opposition. Major manufacturers, including Monsanto, DuPont, PepsiCo and Nestle, contributed a total of $20 million to oppose the initiative. Just $600 spent to fight the measure came from inside the state. Voters defeated the measure, 54 percent to 46 percent.
Last year, more than $477 million was spent in California for and against proposed ballot measures. Business groups and unions spent a combined $149 million on Proposition 32, an unsuccessful effort that would have restricted political fundraising by labor unions. And wealthy Californians that included investor Charles Schwab and philanthropist Eli Broad helped spend $76 million opposing a tax increase backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Supporters of that measure, Proposition 30, which passed, spent another $72 million.
Also last year, Costco Wholesale spent more than $22 million on an initiative to end Washington state's monopoly on liquor sales. The initiative restricted liquor sales to stores of more than 10,000 square feet, giving Costco the chance to sell booze in its huge warehouse stores.
MGM Resorts International contributed nearly $41 million to support Question 7 in Maryland, which will allow the company to build a casino just outside the Washington Beltway. Penn National Gaming, which owns a nearby casino in West Virginia and wanted to avoid the competition, spent $44.1 million to oppose the measure. The two sides spent a combined total of more than $90 million in just two months.