Lobbying in our Prop System

Written by Aadit Agrahara

With many disenfranchised with the current government system citing a gridlocked system that prevents legislation from being signed into law. To solve this clog, states have implemented a ballot measure system.

The process for these measures is simple. First, signatures are collected from the constituents in order to put the ballot measure through the legislator. Second, once these measures reach the threshold for signatures, they will be put on the ballots. Unlike the general presidential election, these elections are a direct popular vote. This process of direct voting on legislation may be referred to as the prop system in certain states.

These props vary from gay marriage, marjuina legality, taxes, and environmental regulation. More often states often closely reflect the political affiliation of the citizens. Thus blue states such as California have more progressive ballot measures and red states such as Kentucky have more right leaning measures. However there are still lobbyists that influence the course of these votes.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on ballot measures each year. With larger states such as California and New York, each ballot committee — advocates and opponents for a prop — could spend up to 6 figures on each bill and other small states will barely reach five thousand. This ratio is a direct cause of the popular vote structure that these ballot measures require. With more people there needs to be money to advertise and influence that greater population.

Different types of props will receive different amounts of attention from lobbyists and committees. Typically props that focus on corporate action will be infiltrated with significant amounts of cash and props focusing on education and lifestyle receive little attention because these committees will often have less resources than the corporations.

In 2022 there are two props that are receiving the most attention from lobbyists. The first is prop 27 that legalizes online sports betting in the state of California. Many gambling companies and sports leagues have taken steps to make online gambling an integral part of their infrastructure. The nba, espn, fox, and yahoo are examples of companies and leagues that have promoted online gambling over the last two years. Expanding into the California market — the most populous state in the union — would bring in billions of dollars of revenue for these companies. The second gambling prop — prop 26 — allows for native tribes that don’t have an exemption, or a compact as it is known in california — to expand the gambling services.

While the common belief is that ballot measures that only have state wide impact such as prop 26 and 27 will only bring lobbyists and their money from within the state. This is a major misconception that often conceals how interconnected money in politics is. The citizens united case not only determined that money was a form of speech but that the super pac model was constitutional. Thus a company from New York that wants to lobby a bill in California, that firm can fund a super pac to lobby the prop. In order to avoid the backlash of interstate lobbying, firms can often go to two or three proxies to make it more difficult to track the money’s origin.

Historically this has happened before where groups from another state have successfully lobbied a prop in another state. In 2009, a pro life group in Arizona successfully lobbied prop 8 — a ban on gay marriage — in California. The campaign was so successful that extremely liberal cities such as L.A. and San Diego voted in favor of prop 8. The reason why this prop no longer has effect in California is because the state supreme court ruled it unconstitutional. This was in the eyes of many unconstitutional actions by the judiciary because props are amendments to the state constitution. However, when the Arizona group took the case to the Supreme Court they lost on the grounds of standing: because they are in a different state they can’t prove injury. What the court didn’t rule on was the legality of this outside action in a state voting process which continues the interstate flow of money in politics.

Whether you agree or disagree with the legislation that is being passed, one concerning aspect of this type of lobbying is that it destroys the fundamental reason for ballot measures: to allow the individual in each state to create direct change. Instead ballot measures have now been infiltrated by outside lobbying groups that are untraceable and instead of people of a state seeing the benefits of their own actions, they must bear the consequences of others.

Written by Aadit Agrahara an undergraduate student studying political theory and constitutional democracy.