Spending didn't pay off on key Arizona propositions

Backers of sales tax, open primary spent millions, but measures lost
2012-12-10T00:00:00Z 2012-12-10T11:17:30Z Spending didn't pay off on key Arizona propositionsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
December 10, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The outcome of last month's statewide ballot measures proves that money can't always buy success.

New reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office show proponents of a permanent 1-cent-per-dollar state sales tax surcharge spent nearly $2.5 million on the effort - or $2.90 a vote - while losing by nearly a 2-1 margin.

Opponents spent less than $1.8 million to kill Proposition 204, or about $1.32 per vote.

Some of the disparity is not surprising.

Historically, those on the "no" side of a campaign start off with a built-in advantage: In general, if people are confused about a measure, they tend to vote against it. Add to that, tax increases come with built in opposition, and this one would have extended an expiring sales tax surcharge in perpetuity.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, who chaired the pro-204 drive, said the spending figures are misleading because her group had to spend about $800,000 to get the measure on the ballot in the first place, in addition to campaigning for its passage. Proposition 204 supporters also had to underwrite a two-month court fight to keep the issue on the ballot.

Proposition 204 would have kicked in June 1, when the existing temporary 1-cent levy approved by voters in 2010 expires. Most of the $1 billion a year it would have raised was earmarked for K-12 education, though there also were funds for universities, social programs and road construction.

We Build Arizona, a consortium of contractors, was the biggest donor at $757,000. The effort also got $450,000 from the National Education Association and another $166,300 from the Arizona Education Association.

The opposition was fueled by $925,000 from Americans for Responsible Leadership, a political action committee headed by former Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams, which does not disclose who its money comes from. The Arizona Automobile Dealers Association provided another $346,974.

Money aside, Pedersen said, some of the loss could be attributed to ballot language telling voters that voting yes "shall have the effect of permanently increasing the state sales tax by one cent per dollar, effective June 1."

"Some voters believed they were being asked to support a brand new tax rather than an extension of an existing 1-cent tax," she said.

• Proposition 121, another high-profile measure that would have eliminated political party primary elections, also went down in flames despite spending significantly more than the opposition.

Campaign finance reports showed expenses of more than $1.8 million, with the biggest single source being $141,500 from Greater Phoenix Leadership. There also were some large individual donations, including $55,000 from Mark Sklar, managing director of the real estate development firm of DMB Associates, and $50,000 from Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart.

The campaign spent $2.75 for each vote it got in its 33-67 percent loss.

Here, too, the cost of gathering signatures and an extended legal fight to stay on the ballot took their financial toll. Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, who headed the campaign, estimated those expenses ate up $1.1 million of what was raised.

Johnson, however, was not looking for others to hold responsible.

"I don't blame the other side," he said. "I blame myself."

Johnson said if he had it to do over again, he would have built a broader coalition of those interested in diminishing the influence of political parties. He said that's how a similar measure was approved in California.

Of the $609,313 raised to defeat Proposition 121, $575,000 came from Americans for Responsible Leadership.

There is no requirement under Arizona law for that group to disclose its donors. But the group was forced by California officials to disclose that the $11 million it put into two California ballot measures was essentially just a pass-through of money from other groups, with the ultimate source of the money still unknown.

Spending on all of the other measures on the November ballot was much less.

• Proposition 115, a bid to give the governor more choices when selecting judges, was defeated after proponents reported spending just $110. The campaign against it cost $149,033.

• Proposition 116, to provide a greater exemption from property taxes on business equipment, also was defeated even though there was no organized opposition. Supporters spent $56,903, with most of that coming from the National Federation of Independent Business.

• Voters did approve Proposition 117, to cap year-over-year increases in a property's assessed value. That campaign cost supporters $148,500, with more than half of that from the Arizona Tax Research Association. Foes spent $79,597, including a $40,000 donation from the Arizona Association of Property Tax Analysts.

• Proposition 118 managed to squeak out a narrow victory after supporters spent just $278. That measure changes how proceeds from the state land trust are distributed each year to schools.

• Supporters of allowing the state to swap lands with the federal government finally gained a victory with approval of Proposition 119. Expenditures totaled $65,818, including $20,000 from the Sonoran Institute.

• Voters rejected Proposition 120, a bid by the state to declare the "sovereign and exclusive authority over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its border." There was no campaign for it; foes spent $6,127, including $2,000 from the Grand Canyon Trust.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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