The following commentary by Jamie Court was broadcast on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004 on Marketplace on National Public Radio. Click here to listen to the audio.
Tess Vigeland – Marketplace Host: Open up a ballot in the majority of states on November and you’ll find a dizzying array of ballot measures. Florida voters will choose whether to cap attorneys fees and vote on a three strikes measure for doctors who commit malpractice. In Nevada, they’ll consider limits on malpractice damages and whether to regulate insurance premiums. Commentator and consumer activist Jamie Court is a veteran of ballot initiative wars.
Jamie Court: Special interests are spending more than a quarter of a billion bucks on backing or opposing 163 ballot measures this election season.
That’s big money, mostly from big corporations, and professional associations. And it will buy a lot of big lies on high stakes issues.
How’s a voter to know the B.S. from the bottom line?
Start by not reading your mail. You see, virtually every glossy mailer is paid for by the highest bidder. That’s often a corporation. Guess what? That company’s interests and yours aren’t likely to intersect.
The trustworthy local politician whose picture appears on the mailer goes along because of free publicity. The sponsors give it because that helps sell their picks.
Beware of campaign committees names. Undercover industries like to give themselves long-winded titles like “People For Everything Wonderful: A Coalition Of Great Folks, Awesome Friends, Terrific Lovers and Oil Companies, and Friendly Firemen.”
Some states require top donors to be identified. So this is a sure way to beat campaign disclosure laws. If you can’t trust their name, how can you trust their argument?
Finally, when a TV ad runs too many times, usually an interest group wants the opposite of what they’re pitching.
Consider the deluge of TV advertising for California Proposition 64. Prop 64 advocates limiting citizen lawsuits. TV ads show small businessmen who claim unscrupulous lawyers are shaking them down.
But Prop 64 is funded by $13 million from big businesses like Phillip Morris and Exxon. They don’t want accountability for pollution and other public health threats. That’s what the American Lung Association, Sierra Club, and California’s Attorney General all say.
Remember initiative politics is a lot like poker. If you don’t see another sucker nearby, then it’s probably you.
In Los Angeles, this is Jamie Court for Marketplace.