Both have sought to be portrayed as “grassroots” efforts
By Eilene Zimmerman, SAN DIEGO BUSINESS.COM
The phrase “more power to the people” has a lot of resonance here in California, where so many of our laws are decided by ballot initiative. This year voters would be justified in feeing a bit manipulated by special interests, as some of the most significant propositions on the ballot are being bankrolled by corporations advancing their own agendas.
No on Prop 17.
Proposition 16, for example, called the “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote Act” isn’t actually about voting rights. And although it sounds very grass roots, it’s not. If Prop 16 passes, it will mean that for a local government to get into the energy business—by forming a municipal utility, for example, or a community-wide clean electricity district—they first have to schedule an election and win approval of two-thirds of voters in the area of the proposed utility. The proposition’s main financial sponsor is—surprise, surprise—Pacific Gas & Electric.
The utility company has spent more than $46 million to make this proposition law. Opponents of Prop 16 have raised a paltry $50,000. If the proposition doesn’t pass, it means local governments can continue to startup up or expand electricity service either by approval of a majority of voters or through the action of governing boards. If it does pass, PG&E could give itself a perpetual monopoly in the state.
The energy company is presenting its support of Prop 16 in a very Tea Party light—voters taking control of the public funds their governments spends too easily. Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for the “Yes On 16” campaign told National Public Radio this month the proposition puts “the power back in the hands of the people.”
She also said PG&E isn’t afraid of competition from publicly owned power providers. “If our opponents can provide cheaper, greener, better electric service, then they shouldn’t b e afraid to go to the people and sell it to them,” she says.
Another corporate entity financing a proposition on Tuesday’s ballot? Mercury Insurance. The company put Prop 17 on the ballot in order to repeal a provision of a voter-approved insurance rate regulation that saved California motorists over $60 billion in excessive insurance rate hikes, according to the Consumer Federation of California. Prop 17 allows auto insurers to raise your premium if you have a break in insurance coverage for three months for any reason, even if you have a great driving record.
Mercury is portraying Prop 17 as “correcting a flaw in the law” that prohibits drivers from taking continuous coverage discounts with them when they switch insurers. The insurance company spent more than $3 million to get the proposition onto the state’s ballot.
Mercury’s CEO George Joseph told Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times that Prop 17 was an effort to offer low car insurance rates for Californians, but a few sentences later admitted he wants more customers, and if discounts become portable, drivers will drop other companies and switch to Mercury because of the company’s cheap rates.
So voters beware. Certain companies (and individuals) stand to benefit mightily if Props 16 and 17 pass. You ought to know that before casting your vote.
About the author: Eilene Zimmerman is a journalist based in San Diego who writes about a variety of topics, including business, social and political issues and family life. Her work has been published in national magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, FORTUNE Small Business, CNNMoney.com, CBS MoneyWatch.com, Wired, Harper’s, Salon.com, Slate.com, Psychology Today and others. She blogs at www.trueslant.com.