SACRAMENTO — Last November's election was a sleepy, low-turnout affair, but don't think it wasn't costly: The health and insurance industries spent about $114 million to kill a pair of ballot measures that would have hurt their bottom lines — and, they say, patients and consumers.
Campaign finance reports filed this week show the committees opposing Proposition 45 — which would have given the state's elected insurance commissioner authority to veto unwarranted health insurance rate hikes — spent about $56 million against the measure.
Proposition 45's backers — including consumer advocates, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and unions representing nurses and teachers — spent a total of about $3.9 million, meaning they were outspent more than 14-to-1. The measure was rejected by 59 percent of voters.
And the committees opposing Proposition 46 — which would have raised the cap on malpractice lawsuit damages for "pain and suffering," required drug testing of doctors and use of a state database to avoid "doctor shopping" by drug abusers — spent about $58 million against that measure.
The attorneys and consumer advocates backing Proposition 46 spent a total of about $10.3 million, leaving them outspent about 5.6-to-1. The measure was rejected by 67 percent of voters.
"It's basically the old adage that money in politics talks, and for Prop. 46 it clearly did," said Bob Pack of Danville, who was inspired to be the measure's proponent by the 2003 killing of his two children by a drugged driver. "I'm disappointed that the influence of big money can turn a pro-general-public initiative like both 45 and 46 and convince people to go against them."
"You can't win when you have $114 million against you and the ground falls out below you because your voters stay home," said Jamie Court, president of Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog, which backed both measures. "This was a tsunami of money on top of an earthquake that broke apart our voter base."
But money isn't everything, the measures foes say. They argue that voters saw bad propositions for what they were.
"It was a fundamentally flawed measure, which is why you saw such a broad coalition formed to speak out against it," said No on 45 spokeswoman Robin Swanson, noting that opponents included everyone from the California Chamber of Commerce to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. "We had to communicate to voters about what it did, but at the end of the day, it was a pretty damaging measure and people saw through it."
Pack said he believes Proposition 46 would have succeeded "if we had had even 50 percent of the budget" that its opponents had, but he's not sorry he took up the battle.
"You have to fight the fight in order to make something happen. We knew we'd be outgunned moneywise from the very beginning," he said, adding the battle at least raised awareness of the issues for the future. "We're going to take the different elements of this initiative and keep them moving."
But No on 46 spokesman Jason Kinney said the proposition's backers at first claimed the measure was so popular that money didn't matter.
"Now that it's been overwhelmingly rejected by every county in California, they're complaining they were outspent. They can't have it both ways," he said. "It wouldn't matter if they spent a billion dollars — California voters aren't ever going to bite on a fundamentally flawed measure they know will cause bad outcomes and cost them way too much money."
Last year's other ballot measures weren't nearly so costly.
The main committee supporting Proposition 1 — the bipartisan, $7.5 million water bond — and Proposition 2 — the bipartisan measure to beef up the state budget's reserve fund — spent a total of about $16.2 million last year, including almost $5.2 million kicked in by Gov. Jerry Brown's re-election campaign.
Foes of the water bond spent only about $86,000 last year; the bond measure passed with 67 percent of the vote. There was no committee opposing Prop. 2, which passed with 69 percent of the vote.
The main committee supporting Proposition 47 — a successful measure to reduce most nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, backed by civil liberties groups and unions — spent a total of almost $9.23 million last year. That's almost 17 times the $550,000 that opponents, mostly law enforcement and victims' groups, spent against the measure. Almost 60 percent of voters approved Proposition 47.
Two committees spent a total of almost $15.3 million to defeat Proposition 48, which would have ratified gaming deals the state had negotiated with the North York Rancheria of Mono Indians and the Wiyot Tribe, and exempted those deals from the California Environmental Quality Act. Those tribes and their supporters spent about $632,000 to support the measure, but 61 percent of voters cast ballots against it.
Brown raised $8.6 million and spent $5.9 million in 2014, atop the tremendous campaign war chest he'd amassed earlier; the Democrat started this year with $19.6 million left in the bank, available for his use on whatever ballot measures he might care to support in the next few years.
Republican challenger Neel Kashkari's campaign raised about $7.2 million last year — though $3.1 million came out of Kashkari's own pocket — and spent about $7.1 million.