The billionaire pumped big bucks into a campaign against Big Tobacco
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has poured almost $29 million over the last month into the Yes on Proposition 31 campaign, which seeks to beat back Big Tobacco’s challenge to California’s 2020 statewide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.
The billionaire philanthropist ponied up the huge sum even as polling indicates that the Yes on Prop. 31 campaign has amassed a staggering lead. A Berkeley IGS poll conducted earlier this month found that the campaign to uphold the ban was ahead by 26 points, with only 12% of voters undecided.
It’s unclear how the money, which will help the campaign pay for a dizzying array of digital ad buys, mailers, and consulting contracts, will have a meaningful impact on the race given the Yes camp’s huge polling lead. Bloomberg’s last-minute spending spree aligns with a fast-approaching deadline for a three-year pledge he made to spend $160 million on banning flavored e-cigarettes by the close of 2022. He’s also spent tens of millions on a battle with Big Soda.
Shaun Bowler, political science professor at UC Riverside, said he was shocked that Bloomberg donated such a huge haul of money with the race looking like a done deal.
“Wow, wow, and wow again! That’s a huge amount of money!” he said. “My one takeaway is that Bloomberg needs someone to tell him how to spend his money better… what are his goals here?”
Bowler says that California ballot races do often tighten as election day nears. And internal campaign polling could indicate that the race is tighter than public polling indicates. But given the number of competitive races across the country this cycle, Bowler says that Bloomberg could have spent the money more effectively.
For Bloomberg, this month’s donations are chump change, totaling around 0.038% of his net worth, which Forbes currently estimates at about $76.8 billion. His donations are the equivalent of a millionaire making a contribution of $375.
For the average U.S. minimum wage worker, it would take nearly 1,913 years of full-time work to earn the amount Bloomberg shelled out to snuff out the tobacco industry’s challenge of California’s ban.
There is plenty of speculation that the tobacco companies who qualified the ballot measure never expected victory at the polls. Just getting Proposition 31 on the ballot triggered a nearly two-year pause on the statewide ban of flavored tobacco sales, allowing them to continue to sell their products in the state.
Supporters of the ban say the delay allowed tobacco companies to make an estimated $830 million in sales, a huge payday for the $20 million investment that campaign finance records show they have sunk into the race.
Bloomberg’s $28.8 million donation is still dwarfed by contributions in some of California’s most expensive ballot measure contests. The two competing sides of the gambling reform measures, Prop. 26 and Prop 27, have raised in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars. The Prop. 29 campaigns, which would add additional regulations to dialysis clinics, have raised a collective $86.4 million.
When asked about Bloomberg’s recent donations, Yes on Prop. 31 campaign spokesperson Molly Weedn said that the campaign is supported by “a diverse coalition of health care organizations, philanthropists, civil justice groups, and children’s advocates…” Nearly 97% of the campaign’s funding has come solely from Bloomberg.
Beth Miller, spokesperson for the No on Prop. 31 campaign, was quick to spin Bloomberg’s last-minute donations as a sign that the Yes campaign is getting nervous.