As California voters make up their minds on Proposition 19, which would legalize the use of marijuana by any adult and allow state and local government to tax marijuana sales, speculation is beginning to swirl over whether this issue will retain its energy enough to crop up on ballots in other states in 2012.
The legalization of marijuana tends to be viewed more favorably by Democrats and by younger voters, who in the recent past have leaned more toward Democratic candidates than Republicans (68 percent of voters aged 18-29 voted for Obama in 2008, for example).
A late October poll conducted by SurveyUSA in Colorado found that marijuana legalization was favored by 46 percent of Coloradans and opposed by 43 percent. Given those numbers, don't be surprised if a Proposition 19-like initiative appears on the Colorado ballot in 2012. The goal would be -- besides legalizing marijuana, of course -- tilting voter turnout toward Democrats on the ballot.
This is a strategy that gained traction in 2004 with same-sex marriage appearing on the ballot in 13 states. The presence of that question on the Ohio ballot that year is widely credited with influencing voter turnout in favor of Republicans and tipping the scales in the presidential race to George Bush.
Will legalizing pot be the same-sex marriage of the 2012 elections? Clues will start to trickle in by late 2011, as initiative filing begins around the country.
Update! A new Gallup poll released today shows that it's not just Coloradans who are taking more positive views toward legalizing pot: support nationwide is up 10 points since 2006, with 46 percent of Americans now saying they support legalization and half saying they oppose it. The Gallup poll supports the idea that Democrats and young people are more likely to support legalization, as are voters in the western U.S. (where most of the initiative states happen to be too). Support is lowest in the South and among Republican, conservative voters and those age 65 and older.
This gives us all the more reason to believe that advocates will seize on this issue and hope to push their cause onto statewide ballots around the country in 2012, and that left-leaning groups will aid in that push in hopes that support for marijuana on statewide ballots might spill over and benefit their candidates.
A new poll released today by the Denver Post and 9News reveals that support for Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 -- already very weak a month ago -- has not improved. While the percentage of those saying they'll vote "yes" has gone up since late September, a closer analysis reveals this is not in fact a sign of increasing support. In the late September poll, the "undecided" vote for all three was more than 40 percent. That's dropped to 20 - 24 percent, and the majority of those who've made up their minds since the earlier poll was taken have decided to vote no.
While the "yes" vote is up by eight points for Amendments 60 & 61 and nine points for Proposition 101, the "no" vote is up by higher margins: 11 points for Amendment 60 and Proposition 101, and 14 points for Amendment 61.
October 19 – 21
Amendment 60 cuts property taxes by half and requires the states to reimburse school districts for the lost K-12 revenue. Amendment 61 prohibits state borrowing and restricts local government borrowing. Proposition 101 cuts or eliminates most vehicle and telecommunications taxes and fees.
Controversy over the financial backing of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 -- anti-tax initiatives that will appear on the November 2 ballot -- has been swirling for months in Colorado. State law requires that any person or group who raises or spends $200 or more on an initiative campaign must register with the secretary of state and file financial disclosure reports. No one registered as a proponent of these three initiatives, even though there is evidence that they qualified for the ballot through the use of professional, paid petition circulators. So who paid for the signature collection effort?
For months, opponents of the three measures pointed the finger at anti-tax activist and former Republican legislator Douglas Bruce. After it became known that the petition circulators had stayed in a property owned by Bruce, opponents filed a campaign finance complaint in January alleging that Bruce was the chief backer of the measures. He managed to evade process servers bearing a subpoena related to that case dozens of times. He was ultimately charged with contempt of court, but a judge dismissed that charge and ordered him to testify in the campaign finance case. A judge in June found that there was sufficient evidence to tie Mr. Bruce to the three initiatives, and ordered the chief sponsor of each (Mr. Bruce's name does not appear in the list of sponsors on any of the three petitions) to pay a $6,000 fine for the campaign finance violations.
The latest twists in the story come from Mr. Bruce himself. In contrast to his strident denials of his involvement in the three measures (he frequently characterizes such accusations as ....), an email he sent to supporters on September 23 claims, "You have no idea how much time and money has been spent to get to the finish line," and writes that he has spent over 1,600 hours of his time on the campaign. He later said that number was a typo, and that he had actually spent only 160 hours.
Today's Denver Post reports that attorneys for the opponents -- a group called Coloradans for Responsible Reform -- have finally deposed Mr. Bruce, and he admitted to them that he had written more than $100,000 in checks to fund the signature drive from the account of his 501(c)(3), Active Citizens Together (ACT). Under Colorado law, ACT should have registered with the secretary of state as soon as it reached the $200 spending threshold. Furthermore, Mr. Bruce has admitted that he received the signed petitions, checked them for accuracy, and stored them at his home before turning them in to state officials for verification. The current complaint goes to an administrative judge, who may order a hearing sometime in the next two weeks.
Mr. Bruce could find himself in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service as a result of this case as well. IRS rules state that a 501(c)(3) cannot have as its chief purpose political activity, and it is unclear based on its recent activities that ACT can meet that standard. Read more about how many non-profit groups are pushing the limits of rules regulating political spending this year in yesterday's New York Times. Another potential legal problem looms in the fact that ACT has not registered as a non-profit with the Colorado secretary of state's office, a step that is required before a group can solicit charitable contributions.
Several of the 24 initiative states have acted in recent years to tighten campaign finance disclosure rules for initiative campaigns, particularly for spending during the signature-gathering phase. The idea behind such disclosure is that the identity of the individuals, groups or corporations that seek to put an initiative before voters is a key fact that voters should be aware of as they decide how to vote on a proposal. Because the opponents have had to rely on the courts to force disclosure in the case of Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101, it is possible that Colorado voters will not know the facts surrounding the financial sponsorship of these three highly controversial initiatives before Election Day.
Two courts weighed in on Washington's campaign finance rules for initiative campaigns last week.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on October 12 upheld a lower court ruling that validated the state's disclosure rules for campaign spending. A group called Human Life filed the suit, alleging that the state's requirements that the group register as a political action committee and report its fundraising and spending on issue ads opposing a 2008 assisted suicide initiative were unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit disagreed, writing that, “Access to reliable information becomes even more important as more speakers, more speech and thus more spending enter the marketplace, which is precisely what has occurred in recent years...Like campaigns for elected office, ballot initiatives are the subject of intense debate and, accordingly, greater expenditures to ensure that messages reach voters.”
On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on a different campaign finance case from Washington. Washington campaign finance law has a unique feature: during the last 21 days before an election (that clock started ticking on Oct. 12 for the Nov. 2 election), no single source can donate more than $5,000 in the aggregate to any political committee. This limit came under challenge by a group called Family PAC in 2009. They were organized to oppose Referendum Measure 71 in 2009, which proposed to expand the rights of same-sex domestic partners. A judge in 2009 refused to lift the ban in 2009 because the challenge came so late in the election that lifting the ban would be disruptive. After the election, the judge struck down the $5,000 limit. The state of Washington appealed to the 9th Circuit for a stay, and the court obliged. Tuesday's SCOTUS ruling upholds the 9th Circuit's stay. Look for a more protracted battle on this case after the election.
As always SCOTUSblog provides an excellent explanation as well as links to briefs.
Visit NCSL's newly-launched StateVote 2010 website to read a summary of recent polls on ballot measures. New polls today include nearly all of the initiatives on Colorado's ballot as well as a casino initiative in Maine.