Corporate-backed groups that are engaged in initiative and referendum campaigns this political season have built up financial war chests that outmatch those of grassroots reform advocates by as much as 24-to-1, a study released on September 28 by Public Citizen finds. On average, the corporate groups outmatched grassroots groups 10-to-1 in the races examined.
The study “Big Business Ballot Bullies: In 2016 State Ballot Initiative Races, Corporate-Backed Groups’ Campaign War Chests Outmatch Their Opposition by an Average of 10-to-1,” determined that total corporate spending in eight races through mid-September was more than $139 million.
As a result, ratepayers are finding it hard to compete against corporate clout, and may find themselves on the losing end – both at the polls and when it is time to pay their utility bills.
According to the research by Public Citizen – which bills itself as “the people’s voice in the nation’s capital” – the top spenders include Anandarko Petroleum Corporation, which contributed $6.55 million toward defeating a Colorado initiative that would have required a set distance between oil and gas development and occupied structures. Opponents of the measure raised 24 times more than proponents; the measure ultimately did not qualify for the ballot.
In Florida, supporters of an initiative to expand access to rooftop solar are competing with a utility-backed decoy solar initiative. The utilities’ initiative qualified for the ballot, derailing the original solar initiative in the process. The group supporting the utility-backed solar initiative (Amendment 1 on the ballot), which would make it easier for energy utilities to restrict and raise costs for rooftop solar, has a 10-to-1 financial advantage. Duke Energy, which contributed $5.7 million to the fight, is a top spender.
“Grassroots ballot initiative campaigns that challenge corporate interests are facing uphill battles against corporate campaign war chests,” said Rick Claypool, a Public Citizen research director and author of the report. “The sheer magnitude of corporate money in these races undermines the power of ballot initiatives and referenda to make policy that prioritizes the public interest over private profits.”