Local Voters, Distant Donors

Published — November 7, 2018

How did billionaire-backed ballot measures fare?



Introduction

Voters decided more than 150 state ballot measures across the country Tuesday, and out-of-state billionaires’ bets on some of the highest profile initiatives mostly paid off.

At least 25 remote tycoons made sizable contributions to the $1.12 billion raised nationwide for state ballot measure campaigns.

Combined, those billionaires gave more than $70 million to campaigns in 19 states, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis published Oct. 18. At least another $7.2 million came from billionaires to campaigns in their home states.

Voters agreed with at least 14 out of 22 ballot measure campaigns backed by billionaires from other states, with one Utah measure to create an independent redistricting commission still too close to call.

Billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center celebrated success in five of the nine ballot measure campaigns it supported, including a Louisiana measure to require unanimous jury verdicts for felony convictions and a Florida measure to restore voting rights to felons.

“These ballot initiatives demonstrate the importance of direct democracy in reflecting the voice of the people, and advancing the values of justice, equality, transparency and accountability,” said Bill Vandenberg, who directs Open Society’s state work.

But some cash-flush, billionaire-backed ballot measure campaigns did fall short, including Ohio’s Issue One to reduce many drug felonies to misdemeanors and Arizona’s Proposition 127 to require utilities to use more renewable energy. The Ohio measure was backed by Soros, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and more; the Arizona measure campaign was funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer.

Here’s where billionaires put their ballot measure money and how they fared:

Billionaire State of Measure Measure Measure summary Position Amount Non-resident Billionaire position won? Measure outcome
Ben Walton Colorado Amendment Y, Z Create independent commissions for redistricting. Yes $250,000 Yes Yes Passed
Cale Bonderman Florida Amendment 4 Restore felon voting rights. Yes $700,000 Yes Yes Passed
Carrie Penner ColoradoAmendment Y, ZCreate independent commissions for redistricting.Yes$50,000YesYesPassed
Connie Ballmer WashingtonInitiative 1639Increase restrictions on gun ownership.Yes$500,000NoYesPassed
Daniel Lewis FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$500,000NoYesPassed
Django Bonderman FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$500,000YesYesPassed
Dustin Moskovitz/Cari Tuna FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$750,000YesYesPassed
Dustin Moskovitz/Cari Tuna OhioIssue 1Reduce many drug felonies to misdemeanors and change other drug lawsYes$1,000,000YesNoFailed
Geoff Palmer CaliforniaProp 10Allow local governments to adopt rent control.No$2,000,000NoYesFailed
George Soros MissouriAmendment 1Change the state’s campaign finance, lobbying and redistricting laws.Yes$550,000YesYesPassed
George Soros LouisianaAmendment 2Require unanimous jury decisions to convict on a felony charge.Yes$420,000YesYesPassed
George Soros FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$1,500,000YesYesPassed
George Soros WashingtonInitiative 940Broaden police liability for use of deadly force and add police training requirements.Yes$230,000YesYesPassed
George Soros OhioIssue 1Reduce many drug felonies to misdemeanors and change other drug lawsYes$1,500,000YesNoFailed
George Soros OregonMeasure 105Repeal the law that makes Oregon a “sanctuary state.”No$180,000YesYesFailed
George Soros CaliforniaProp 10Allow local governments to adopt rent control.Yes$300,000YesNoFailed
George Soros MaineQuestion 1Enact taxes to pay for home care for seniors.Yes$200,000YesNoFailed
George Soros North CarolinaVoter ID AmendmentAmend state constitution to require photo ID to vote in personNo$500,000YesNoPassed
Greg Penner ColoradoAmendment Y, ZCreate independent commissions for redistricting.Yes$50,000YesYesPassed
Henry Nicholas GeorgiaAmendment 4Enact a crime victims’ bill of rights.Yes$8,300,000YesYesPassed
Henry Nicholas FloridaAmendment 6Enact a crime victims’ bill of rights.Yes$30,370,000YesYesPassed
Henry Nicholas KentuckyMarsy’s Law Crime Victims Rights AmendmentEnact a crime victims’ bill of rights.Yes$4,885,000YesYesPassed
Henry Nicholas NevadaQuestion 1Enact a crime victims’ bill of rights.Yes$645,000YesYesPassed
Henry Nicholas OklahomaQuestion 794Enact a crime victims’ bill of rights.Yes$900,000YesYesPassed
James Simons FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$300,000YesYesPassed
John Arnold/Laura Arnold ColoradoAmendment Y, ZCreate independent commissions for redistricting.Yes$250,000YesYesPassed
John Arnold/Laura Arnold MichiganProp 2Create an independent redistricting commission.Yes$250,000YesYesPassed
John Arnold/Laura Arnold UtahProp 4Create an independent redistricting commission.Yes$608,153YesYes*Passed*
John Childs AlaskaMeasure 1Protect salmon habitats.Yes$200,000YesNoFailed
Laurie Michaels FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$800,000YesYesPassed
Leslie Hanauer WashingtonInitiative 1639Increase restrictions on gun ownership.Yes$613,018NoYesPassed
Liz Simons FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$700,000YesYesPassed
Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan OhioIssue 1Reduce many drug felonies to misdemeanors and change other drug lawsYes$1,000,000YesNoFailed
Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan CaliforniaProp 1&2Authorize $4 billion for affordable-housing programs.Yes$250,000NoYesPassed
Michael Bloomberg ColoradoAmendment Y, ZCreate independent commissions for redistricting.Yes$500,000YesYesPassed
Nicholas Pritzker FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$250,000YesYesPassed
Nick Hanauer WashingtonInitiative 1639Increase restrictions on gun ownership.Yes$613,018NoYesPassed
Nick Hanauer WashingtonInitiative 940Broaden police liability for use of deadly force and add police training requirements.Yes$250,000NoYesPassed
Pat Stryker ColoradoAmendment Y, ZCreate independent commissions for redistricting.Yes$600,000NoYesPassed
Paul Allen WashingtonInitiative 1639Increase restrictions on gun ownership.Yes$1,226,036NoYesPassed
Richard Uihlein MassachusettsQuestion 3Uphold current law banning discrimination based on gender identity.No$10,000YesNoPassed
Samantha Holloway FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$500,000YesYesPassed
Seth Klarman FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$250,000YesYesPassed
Seth Klarman MassachusettsQuestion 3Uphold current law banning discrimination based on gender identity.Yes$200,000NoYesPassed
Stacy Schusterman FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$500,000YesYesPassed
Steven Ballmer WashingtonInitiative 1639Increase restrictions on gun ownership.Yes$500,000NoYesPassed
Tom Steyer ArizonaProp 127Require electric utilities to use more renewable energy.Yes$8,257,347YesNoFailed
Tom Steyer NevadaQuestion 6Require electric utilities to use more renewable energy.Yes$1,900,000YesYesPassed
Zoe Bonderman FloridaAmendment 4Restore felon voting rights.Yes$700,000YesYesPassed

Source: State records; Ballotpedia; Open Society Foundations.
*Utah Proposition 4 was passing as of midday Wednesday by a narrow margin, but not all precincts had reported.

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