Corporate Power Over Ballot Questions: Archive of Older Cases

This page is an archive of older cases of corporate ballot initiative abuse. See our main ballot initiative page here for current cases, background information, references to key legal decisions and more.

In California: 

  • Target Corporation succeeded in overturning a size cap in Davis at the ballot box in 2006 and Long Beach in 2007.
  • In 2005, two giant pharmaceutical companies committed $12 million to run a California ballot initiative on prescription drug pricing at the state level. Donations to Schwarzenegger’s California Recovery Team, the funding arm of his package of ballot initiatives, include $1 million from developer Alex Spanos, along with investments from Safeway Inc., E-Bay Inc. and Bank of America. Also, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Cendant Corp., Citigroup Inc. and Target Inc. each gave $100,000 to Citizens to Save California, a political action committee promoting the governor’s agenda. Their bid failed, but again at enormous cost to those who defeated it.
  • In 2004, a corporate consortium succeeded in passing Proposition 64 to rescind key elements of California ‘s Unfair Business Practices Act (see pre-election story + background links or a post-election analysis by one of the law’s defenders). The law, previously was one of the nation’s strongest tools for environmental and consumer protection, was emasculated in the name of stopping “frivolous lawsuits.” This was the law used by Marc Kasky to sue Nike in the Nike v. Kasky case (we filed an amicus brief (pdf) at the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Nike’s claim to a “right to lie” under the 1st Amendment).
  • Humboldt County, CA: In 2006, the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights successfully drove passage of a ballot initiative to ban any non-local corporation from contributing to any candidate campaign, referendum or recall in county elections. Read a brief summary. HCCR won 55% of the vote, but was later overturned in court.
  • Some CA unions are pursuing a different strategy of requiring shareholder consent for corporate political expenditures. Though we have not thoroughly evaluated the potential efficacy of this approach, this particular initiative is seriously flawed in our view.

In Montana 

  • In 2006, Wal-Mart overwhelmed citizen activists in Ravalli County with a massive PR campaign and overturned perhaps the most democratically-enacted law in county history. Residents of the county’s four municipalities — those most likely to be impacted — were banned from voting by county officials, based on the argument that their towns can enact their own zoning regulations. With the core base of opposition disenfranchised, Wal-Mart won narrowly.
  • In 2004, a single out-of-state mining corporation, Canyon Resources, Inc., spent a staggering $3 million (in a state with well under a million people) in a failed attempt to overturn I-137, passed by state voters in 1998 to prohibit cyanide leach mining in Montana (see this op-ed for details). Even though the initiative failed, the fight sucked huge amounts of money from citizen groups and diverted thousands of hours of work from pro-active organizing.

In Utah

  • In November of 2007, residents of Heber (near Park City) will vote on whether to allow stores exceeding 60,000 sq ft. A proposed Wal-Mart is the focal point. Wal-Mart already overwhelmed a ballot initiative by residents in nearby Sandy, UT in 2005.

In Arizona.

  • Real estate interests advanced a 2004 initiative to overturn public campaign financing at the state level. This initiative was later removed from the ballot for mixing two issues in a single initiative — forbidden by state law. Months later, Wal-Mart succeeded in overturning a size cap in Flagstaff by running its own ballot initiative.This op-ed covers that battle and an one in Sandy, Utah, where residents won a battle at Utah’s Supreme Court to hold a fall 2005 referendum on whether land should be rezoned to permit Wal-Mart and Home Depot to build there, only to be defeated at the ballot box.
  • In March of 2007, Wal-Mart spent more than $275,000 (the developer kicked in another $25k) to convince voters not to support a rezoning decision that allowed a proposed new “superstore.” Wal-Mart won, 5,598 to 2,893. Protect Prescott Valley, the local opposition, collected $1,500 from the UFCW.

In Maine

  • HR 2050 was introduced and defeated in spring, 2005. The bill proposed to revoke corporate claims to enjoy Bill of Rights protections in the state of Maine.

 See Also