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Cigarette Companies Burning Through Millions To Defeat Measure 50

OPB | Oct. 10, 2007 7:58 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:18 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Kristian Foden-Vencil

The record for the amount of money spent on a ballot measure in Oregon just got smashed.

Cigarette companies, Philip Morris, Reynolds and Altria, have raised about $9 million to defeat Measure 50. That exceeds the previous record by nearly $2 million and means the No campaign will likely outspend their opponents by a ratio of almost five to one.  Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.


Measure 50 is a constitutional amendment that would increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 85 cents.

The money would go to pay for healthcare for kids and adults — and to fund tobacco prevention programs.

J.L. Wilson, the spokesman for ‘No on Measure 50,’ says they’ve raised $9 million because they’re out to win.

J.L. Wilson: “The companies involved have every right to defend themselves and defend the people who use their products. And let's face it, the easiest tax in the word to pass on the ballot is a tax that the other guy pays. Which is exactly what a cigarette tax does.”

On the other side of the issue, campaigners are outraged.  They sent out a press release saying that if  $9 million went toward healthcare , it would pay for 96,000 kids to visit their pediatrician.

Cathy Kaufmann is the campaign’s spokeswoman.

Cathy Kaufmann: “I think $9 million is a ridiculous amount of money to spend in this state. Tobacco isn’t just trying to share their side of the story, they’re trying to drown out any other side to the story.”

Still, Kaufmann says she’s not worried. She says the Yes campaign still has enough money to get its  message out and win.

‘Democracy Reform Oregon’ is a group that studies how money affects the way public policy is created.

Spokeswoman, Sarah Wetherson, looked back 20 years to see how the Measure 50 money compares with other campaigns – and she adjusted for inflation.

Sarah Wetherson: “I think it blows everything out of the water. I think that is fair to say. It’s nearly $2 million more than the last fundraising leader.”

That was the fight to close the Trojan nuclear plant in 1992.

Up against the cigarette companies' $9 million, are organizations like ‘Regence Blue Cross’ and the ‘American Cancer Society.’ Unions like the SEIU and AFSCME are also supporting the measure, and all together, they’ve raised about $2 million.

So the question for Wetherson is: Does a $9 million campaign always beat a $2 million campaign?

Sarah Wetherson: “Money doesn’t affect ballot measure races in the same way that it does legislative races. If this was a legislative race, I could tell you with 85 to 90 percent certainty that the tax was going to go down, so Measure 50 would fail. But this is a ballot measure and what we’ve seen in the past is that about 50 percent of the time the money leader wins, and about 50 percent of the time the money leader loses.”

But that’s not how tobacco companies see things, says Kristina Wilfore of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in D.C. She says that since cigarette executives wrapped up their testimony in front of Capital Hill a few years ago, tobacco companies have come off the sidelines.

Kristina Wilfore: “What we saw in 2006 was that big tobacco was ready to engage with a lot of money and completely overwhelm the proponents of tobacco tax in 2006 and they were successful in defeating those.”

Those measures were in California and Missouri.

Interestingly in South Dakota that same year, where tobacco didn’t spend as much money, a tax did pass.

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