Rideshare, Flat Tax Measures Spur Billion-Dollar Ballot Spending

By Tiffany Stecker,
Bloomberg Government,
November 3, 2020


Uber Technologies Inc., DaVita Inc., and General Motors Co. are among the companies pumping millions of dollars into ballot initiatives in a year when the pandemic has upended political campaigning conventions. 

Voters are casting ballots on 120 statewide proposals including legalizing marijuana, employee rights, and taxing the rich. That’s on top of local questions on bond issues, police practices, and more. 

There are fewer statewide ballot measures this year than in any previous even-numbered year in the 21st Century, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute of the University of Southern California. Even so, the fundraising to pass or defeat those questions could end up outpacing 2018’s $1.19 billion; at least $1.13 billion had been raised, according to data compiled as of Oct. 28 by the election-tracking site Ballotpedia.

“Everyone’s competing with each other for voters’ eyeballs,” said Kim Alexander, president the California Voter Foundation, in a state where campaigns have raised more than $700 million to target 12 ballot propositions

The pandemic helped drive up costs as campaigns replaced in-person outreach with digital advertising, text messaging, and mailings, said Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of theWashington, D.C.-based Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, which partners with left-leaning ballot measure campaigns nationwide. 

They also had to pay for personal protective equipment for workers and volunteers; and hire attorneys to ask courts for new rules to qualify measures that fell short on signatures as a result of the stay-at-home orders. Courts in eight states denied campaigns the flexibility to qualify measures despite a shortfall in signatures, according to the Initiative and Referendum Institute.

“Because of Covid-19, there were just unforeseen costs,” Figueredo said. 

Widespread early voting and voting by mail meant voters turned in ballots earlier and over a longer period of time, extending the campaign advertising window, said Alexander. (Full Story)