What Big Money “No” Campaigns Really Want

by on October 28, 2014

No on 46 claims attorneys are the problem, not outdated medical malpractice damage caps

Giants’ fans listening to KNBR have been deluged with political ads opposing three ballot measures. One ad promises to stop “a single politician” from doing terrible things to people. Another to prevent “billions” in additional health care costs. The third attacks taxes, associating taxation with an elitist, evil goal.

These ads against California’s Prop 45, Prop 46, and San Francisco’s Prop E seek far more than to defeat a particular ballot initiative. After all, they continue to run as the two state measures are certain to lose and the San Francisco soda tax initiative which faces an uphill battle to reach the 2/3 approval necessary for passage.

Corporate interests are using these ballot measures for more than winning a single election. Their true goal is promoting a broader agenda that most see as contrary to the public’s interest. What is this agenda?

 Attacking the Public Sector

Opponents of Prop 45 claim they want to “Stop the Politician Power Grab.” Prop 45 is said to “give one politician too much power.” That’s mega-billion dollar health industry talk for stopping the elected California Insurance Commissioner from controlling health care costs.

The health insurance industry has already spent $55 million to defeat Prop 45. Its ads carefully avoid saying that the initiative empowers an elected official to regulate health care costs.

The ads instead bash “politicians.” That these politicians are elected by a democratic vote of the people is ignored; they can’t have people thinking that it would be better to have someone accountable to the public making health care decisions than the health care execs who only care about maximizing profits.

Health insurers are not continuing to spend against Prop 45 because they fear it will win. Rather, they are still spending millions to prevent future calls for greater public oversight of their industry.


If voters were asked, ”Who would you rather have make decisions on health care costs, elected officials or health insurance executives,” I think most would say the former. That’s why health insurers are investing millions in bashing the public sector long after Prop 45 was clearly going down to defeat.

Bashing Attorneys

“No” campaigns are also focused on attorney bashing. Insurance companies have also spent most of the $57 million to defeat Prop 46, which raises the 1975 medical malpractice limit of $250,000 to $1.1 million, indexing the limit to inflation.

No on 46 ads do not mention malpractice limits. Instead, they target “greedy” attorneys. Attorney bashing is a long popular sport, except when someone finds themselves injured by corporate wrongdoing and needs a lawyer to obtain just compensation.

Convincing the public that attorneys are the problem, rather than dangerous products or reckless physicians, has a payoff far beyond beating Prop 46. It helps build support for so-called “tort reform,” and for other measures that protect corporate interests by restricting legal action.

The 1975 medical malpractice damage limits are long outdated. I really wish the consumer attorneys had just put an increase to $1.1 million on a straight up or down vote. Instead, they threw in a provision requiring drug testing for doctors, which simply made it easier for health insurance companies to convince the public that Prop 46 was deceptive.

But there’s nothing deceptive about the motives of the No on 46 ad blitz: define attorneys as caring only about profits, leaving victims of medical malpractice and other wrongs with fewer legal options.

Taxes Limit Freedom

The third tent post of the corporate media blitz against ballot measures is the anti-tax agenda of San Francisco’s No on Prop E (the soda tax) campaign. While similar messaging is occurring against Berkeley’s Soda Tax, Prop D, it’s the No on E campaign that is a regular presence on the Giants radio station.

No on E has raised many arguments, but its core argument is anti-tax. It argues that the “the last thing we need is a new tax that makes it even more expensive to live and work in San Francisco.” It also claims that taxing soda is attempt to limit personal freedom, or a way for elites to tax low-income people for values they don’t share.

Beyond Chron has published many pro soda-tax pieces refuting the No arguments, and I need not repeat them here. My point is that the $9 million in anti-tax arguments raining down on San Francisco are directed at more than Prop E. They are part of a larger anti-tax agenda that now controls the Republican Party, and which has put the nation’s infrastructure at risk.

After voters have been daily assaulted by No on E’s anti-tax messaging, a small fraction may internalize that attitude and vote against Prop G, the tax on real estate speculators. No on soda tax folks would deny that they are giving tacit support to No on G, but the No on E’s campaign’s entire point is that once people get away with taxing soda, the sky’s the limit.

As our airwaves remain under siege from the No on 45, 46, and Prop E campaigns, realize that it’s no longer about defeating these measures—it’s about building opposition to the public sector, taxes, and the ability of the legal system to redress corporate wrongs.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He discusses how to win initiatives against huge opposition spending in The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century



Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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