Wed, July 17

Money talks, but not so much in Prop 204 campaign

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 that proponents of a permanent one-cent state sales tax surcharge spent nearly $2.5 million on the effort. That compares with less than $1.8 million against Proposition 204.

Yet the measure gained the backing of just 36.2 percent of those who weighed in on the measure.

Put another way, backers spent $2.90 for each vote they got -- and lost.

The payoff was better for the foes. They managed to defeat the measure at a cost of just $1.32 for each vote.

Some of the disparity is not surprising.

Those on the "no' side of a campaign start off with a built-in advantage: In general, if people are unsure about what a measure does or are confused, they tend to vote against it.

But Ann-Eve Pedersen who chaired the pro-204 drive, said the spending figures ignore a key fact: proponents had to spend about $800,000 to get the measure on the ballot in the first place, leaving less for the actual campaign.

The tax envisioned by Proposition 204 would have kicked in next June, the day after the temporary one-cent levy approved by voters in 2010 self destructs. The lion's share of the approximately $1 billion a year it would initially generate 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 its source of funds. The Arizona Automobile Dealers Association provided another $346,974.

Pedersen said fundraising was hampered by having to sue Secretary of State Ken Bennett to get the measure on the ballot. She said that during that two month legal fight the campaign "could not effectively fundraise.'

Money aside, Pedersen said some of the loss could attributed to language on the ballot which described the effect of a "yes' vote, saying it "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 one-cent tax,' she said.

But there was something else: The 2010 temporary hike that voters approved was supported by Gov. Jan Brewer and major business organizations. Proposition 204 was backed by only a handful of business groups and was opposed not only by Brewer and many other elected officials.

That inability to win with more money also played out in the defeat of Proposition 121 to create a system where all primaries in Arizona were run on a nonpartisan basis, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election regardless of party affiliation.

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 Wal-Mart.

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

But 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, even though, like Prop 204, foes got money from Americans for Responsible Leadership, and even though the fate of the ballot measure had to be run all the way up to the Supreme Court. "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 of that 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 into two California ballot measures was essentially just a pass-through from other groups, though the ultimate source of dollars still remains unknown and is the subject of an ongoing inquiry there.

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 for appellate court and the trial courts in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, 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.

Perhaps the least controversial measures on the ballot, 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.