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Politics

Phil Matier: Time And Money Running Out On Many Ballot Initiative Campaigns

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A California polling place

Voters cast ballots at a California polling place (Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

PhilMatier01-370 Phil Matier
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SACRAMENTO (KCBS) — It’s crunch time for would-be California ballot initiatives, with backers of some particularly controversial ones acknowledging they may not have the support or money to qualify their initiatives for the November ballot.

So far, multimillionaire and conservative political activist Ron Unz has dropped his bid to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Meanwhile, the recreational marijuana initiative—similar to what exists in Washington and Colorado—which initially looked like it was going to get support from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom—has also fallen by the wayside. And finally, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform measure lost its support.

It’s starting to dawn on everybody that there are two numbers that guide which directions these initiatives will go: Poll figures and the amount of available campaign dollars.

It will be interesting to see how the ballot measures—about 40—that are approved for circulation by the Secretary State’s office will make to the finish line. They have until mid-to-late April to get in because their signatures have to be counted by all the various counties and the Secretary of State; it’s a daunting task, especially in California.

This is why there are people with clipboards out on the streets and in front the supermarkets—most of whom are paid about $3 per signature—to get voters to sign up. That’s why qualifying for an initiative, if you don’t go through the Legislature, can cost a few million dollars just to get it on the ballot.

This is the time when you sit with your backers and ask if the $10 to $15 million needed to swing voters once it is on the ballot is available.

With the marijuana, for example, the thought was you could spend $15 million to try to pass an initiative in California, whereas you could win two smaller states for about $10 million.

The other is issue is whether you could really raise the money or not. Unz couldn’t come up with the money and the unions wouldn’t back his measure.

And there are some individuals who fund these initiatives themselves, but this why it’s fish-or-cut bait time. We will see how many of them will go to the table ready to spend their own $10 to $20 million.

It’s like Vegas, we’re all waiting around for the game to begin, wondering who the real high rollers are going to be.

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