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Proposition 29 and the contributions of political campaigns

April 26, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Proposition 29 spending has contributed in a small way to California's economy.
Proposition 29 spending has contributed in a small way to California's… (Los Angeles Times )

No matter how you feel about Meg Whitman, head of Hewlett-Packard, former head of eBay, you'd have to concede that one of her biggest contributions to the California economy was as candidate for California governor. She lavished about $160 million on her failed campaign, and we'd have to guess that most or all of that was spent within the state.

It might be hard to get the engine of California's economy revving again, but we do get a good, if short-term, cough out of political campaigns, and the most recent proof of this is the spending on Proposition 29, the initiative that would impose an extra dollar-per-pack tax on cigarettes and use most of the proceeds on medical research for cancer and cardiovascular and lung diseases.

As The Times prepares to go to print Friday with its editorial recommending which way to vote on the proposition (and it could be a mistake to infer anything about that editorial's conclusions based on anything written here), the latest figures on campaign expenditure have come out. The two biggest contributors to campaign for 29, according to MapLight's voter guide, are the American Cancer Society and the foundation started by bicyclist Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor, with the two giving about $1.5 million each. Overall, the pro-campaign has raised $4.5 million.

Unsurprisingly, the forces against the tax have outspent them by huge margins -- almost $24 million contributed to the No on 29 campaign, almost all of it from Big Tobacco. That's minor stuff compared with Whitman, but it does buy a whole lot of air time. Chances are you've noticed that on the airwaves lately.

Contributing to the California economy? In a way. In a very small way, compared with what smoking costs the state -- about $9 billion a year in added medical expenses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with almost $3 billion of that picked up by taxpayers to provide treatment via Medi-Cal. An additional $8 billion is lost in productivity, and the costs per pack of cigarettes easily outstrips the actual price the smokers pay.

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