Election 2014: Voter Apathy, Money In Strange Mix

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Voters may be apathetic on Election Day, but there are some people in California who are excited indeed about the ballot – those who have a big pocketbook interest in the outcome.

Through Tuesday morning, campaign spending on six ballot propositions alone has approached a quarter-billion dollars, a hefty price tag, even in California. Meanwhile, pre-election polls predicted a record low turnout.

Most of the money came from health insurers, physicians and their allies, attorneys and business interests to defeat a pair of measures, Propositions 45 and 46, targeting doctors’ drug testing, malpractice lawsuits and rate regulation.

Financial disclosure records at the secretary of state’s office showed total campaign funding for the ballot propositions at about $240 million, a figure that includes only direct donations.

But it reflects overlapping contributions to at least two measures – including Proposition 1, to build water works, and Proposition 2, to change state budget procedures. Both of those are backed by Gov. Jerry Brown as part of his reelection campaign for a final term as governor.

One measure alone, Proposition 46, generated more than $104 million, with $94 million against and some $10 million in support.

Proposition 46 requires mandatory drug testing for doctors and would peg the cap on pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases to reflect inflation. That cap been $250,000 since 1975, when it was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Jerry Brown during his first term as governor.

The opponents of Proposition 46 reflect an array of seven-digit campaign donations.

The Doctors Company, a medical insurer, donated $15.5 million in three donations of $5 million each, plus a half-million-dollar donation.

An independent expenditure committee of the Cooperative of American Physicians medical group, contributed some $15.2 million, including three of $5 million each. The Norcal Mutual Insurance Company contributed $16 million in three, $5 million donations and a $1 million payment.

Eleven entities reported donations of $5 million each against Proposition 46, including a political committee of the California Medical Association. Of more than 220 donations to the opposition of Proposition 46, at least 30 were for $1 million or more.

Another measure, Proposition 45, would empower the state insurance commissioner to regulate health insurance rates. The commissioner already regulates vehicle and homeowners’ insurance.

The state insurance commissioner has been publicly elected official since voters approved Proposition 103 in 1988. The group that sponsored that measure is backing both Propositions 45 and 46. Supporters have raised some $14.3 million for both propositions, about two-thirds of it for Proposition 46.

Consumer Watchdog and its allies raised some $10 million to support Proposition 46 and about $4.3 million to support Proposition 45. The group formed a joint committee for both measures, as well as a committee specifically targeting Proposition 46.

The main opposition to Proposition 45 came from health insurers. Kaiser Health Plan spent nearly $18.5 million, as did Wellpoint Inc. and its affiliates. Blue Shield spent nearly $12.4 million to block Proposition 46, Health Net spent $6.6 million. Total opposition money came to about $57 million.

Propositions 1 and 2, the cornerstones of Gov. Brown’s re-election effort, raised about $23 million each through an array of 14 campaign committees to support the propositions, but the funding reflects contributions to both campaigns.

Opposition to Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond, came mostly from farm interests, a total of about $87,000.

Support for Proposition 2, which requires money to be set aside to deal with budget emergencies, came from a dozen committees. There was no committee created solely to oppose Proposition 2.

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