Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, liberal financier George Soros, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are three of the dozens of billionaires who have dropped millions of dollars into campaigns for ballot initiatives across the United States.
With less than two weeks left before the November midterm elections, the fresh analysis of state records by the Center of Public Integrity reveals just how much some elite political players want certain initiatives to pass.
The group found that 25 American billionaires have invested more than $70.7 million in campaigns for initiatives in states where the billionaires don’t actually reside.
Adding the $7.2 million from the group and other billionaires spent on initiatives in their home states, the group has spent more than 10 percent of the $648 million invested so far in statewide ballot measure campaigns.
The huge investment by billionaires is likely an undercount as it doesn’t include gifts from billionaire-led corporations, or nonprofits where billionaires are often among the backers.
The billionaires have backed a number of different campaigns, including a ballot measure in Ohio that would soften penalties for people convicted of drug possession backed by Soros and Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO and his wife live in California and Hawaii while Soros lives in New York.
“We think setting criminal justice policy by constitutional amendment is a terrible idea, and I think what makes it even worse is that it’s not being proposed by Ohioans. It’s being driven by money from out of state,” Louis Tobin, the executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, told the Atlantic, which co-reported the story with the Center of Public Integrity and Business Insider.
“We’re going to have to live with the unintended consequences of this.”
In Arizona, a ballot measure would require utilities to get 50 percent of their power solely from wind and solar sources by 2030. Its backers include Tom Steyer, another billionaire who lives in California.
“We believe strongly that a California billionaire coming into Arizona and spending $10 [million] to $20 million to cram this thing down our throats is problematic,” said Matthew Benson, an opponent of the measure.
Others, though, note that it’s not unusual for ballot campaigns to have high-level backing.
“The fact is that you need a lot of money to even get one of these campaigns off the ground,” said Josh Altic, ballot measures project director for Ballotpedia, adding that the average cost for a campaign to get on the ballot in 2016 was more than $1 million. “It’s not very unusual to have really rich individuals or financially influential corporations giving a lot of money.”