Passions Money of Few Drive Fall Ballot Questions

Passions Money of Few Drive Fall Ballot Questions
Posted by FoM on October 16, 2000 at 07:29:30 PT
By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff 
Source: Boston Globe
At the heart of the millions of dollars pouring into the eight questions on the Nov. 7 ballot are people like John Sperling, 79, of Phoenix.Sperling is a World War II veteran, a self-made multimillionaire and a higher education pioneer. Two decades ago, he discovered that marijuana eased the pain of his prostate cancer.
The contents of Sperling's private ''dossier'' explain why he has dropped $310,000 into the Massachusetts political system this year. It's brimming with hundreds of yellowing newspaper clips on drug arrests.''A form of social insanity,'' he said.Sperling, along with two other out-of-state corporate magnates, are single-handedly funding the push behind Question 8, which would shift the state's criminal justice system to favor therapy over prison for drug offenders.A Globe examination of campaign finance records from this record-breaking political season finds, on the surface, a familiar theme: deep-pocketed corporate interests pitted against broad grass-roots coalitions. But a deeper look reveals that it is the passion and zeal - and money - of a handful of individuals like Sperling that are driving the referendum process.They include: a loose-knit network of strident animal rights activists from around the country; a handful of dog racing track owners, many from out-of-state; three liberal multimillionaires; a Sudbury man who became outraged over highway tolls after being rear-ended on the Mass. Turnpike; and a Massachusetts General Hospital doctor with vivid memories of the days when doctors made house calls.The efforts of this diverse group may change significant aspects of life in the Commonwealth. The initiatives they support or rail against are perhaps the most far-reaching in recent memory. If passed, the health care system could be overhauled, income taxes could be slashed, commuters could get a tax windfall, an entire industry could disappear, and crime fighting could undergo basic changes.Sperling, for one, predicts his efforts to influence drug policy will pay off.''Our polling indicates that the people in Massachusetts are pretty enlightened folks,'' he said, chuckling.Question 8:In 1994, a friend who taught at Sperling's alma mater, Princeton University, hooked him up with George Soros, a billionaire global investor with a long track record of attempting to influence social policy in the United States and elsewhere. One of Soros's pet peeves was the US war on drugs.''It was a natural alliance,'' Sperling recalled.The two then connected with another business tycoon, Peter B. Lewis, CEO of the Progressive Group, a $6.1 billion insurance giant based near Cleveland. He was well-known for his disgust toward US drug policy. Lewis has struggled with circulatory problems over the last decade, and two years ago one of his legs was amputated.Last year, Lewis was arrested in New Zealand and charged with possession of 3.5 ounces of marijuana. The charges were dismissed after he made a hefty donation to an Auckland drug treatment center.The trio's first success was Proposition 200, which loosened marijuana laws in Sperling's home state of Arizona, where he runs the University of Phoenix, one of the nation's largest for-profit colleges.Massachusetts was at the top of the list for their next strike. Only 100,000 signatures are needed to get a quesiton on the ballot, one of the lowest bars of the 24 states that allow ballot questions. And polling data indicated that the Commonwealth's citizens were open-minded when it came to drugs.The three men created a state group called the Coalition for Fair Treatment. To date, in addition to Sperling's contributions, Lewis and Soros have each spent $325,000 to fund the coalition's advocacy of Question 8, according to state records.The question would, if passed, create more state funds for drug treatment programs, an option to seek treatment instead of incarceration for first- and second-time drug offenders, and make it more difficult to confiscate their property.All 11 of the state's district attorneys are against it, as are most area police forces. They say it is too lenient on drug users and would make it more difficult to conduct drug investigations.The Coalition on Fair Treatment has already spent about $850,000 this year against Question 8 and still has $91,626 on hand, according to records, with more money likely to come. They plan an advertising barrage close to Election Day. Aside from prosecutors and police, there is no organized opposition to the question.Question 3:Over the last three weeks, state records show, Question 3 has attracted the attention of the Fund for Animals from New York ($12,500), Institute of Animal Protection in Sacramento ($10,000), the Humane Society in Washington ($15,000), The National Anti-Vivesection Society in Chicago ($1,000), and the Defenders of Greyhounds in Portland, Ore. ($1,600).The question, if passed, would ban dog racing. The fight over the issue in Massachusetts could be something of a watershed for animal rights activists. If they win, it would be the first time an active dog racing industry was legislated out of existence.One of the wunderkind organizers of the animal rights movement, Carey Thiel, flew in from Portland, Ore., to coordinate the influx of cash from out of state. Theil is a former national chess champion. At age 19 he ran a US Senate campaign that, despite its failure, established Thiel as an able political operative.Over the last month, Thiel and his crew - dubbed Grey2K - have staged public events featuring videos produced by a Washington political consulting firm that show emaciated, mutilated greyhounds that once raced at tracks across the country.Dog track owners are not taking this passively. They have formed the Massachusetts Animal Interest Coalition, with its own set of recent out-of-state donors, according to state records: the New Hampshire Gaming Association ($5,000), the Palm Beach Kennel Club ($15,000), Rocky Mountain Greyhound Park ($2,500), and Tucson Greyhound Park ($2,500).''Obviously if the animal rights groups are successful in Massachusetts, they'll move on to other states,'' said Tom Taylor, CEO of Tucson Greyhound Park.The pro-dog racing side is primarily funded by the Commonwealth's two tracks, Wonderland in Revere, and Raynham-Taunton. If Question 3 passes, about 2,000 of their employees would be without jobs. Last month, they outspent Grey2K 40-to-1, though the sides have about the same amount of cash on hand.But one of the donors to the Mass. Animal Interest Coalition, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, has gotten the local dog tracks snagged in a bit of controversy. Last week, the top dog trainer at the Florida track was charged with four counts of cruelty to animals and four counts of animal abandonment after four greyhounds in his care died of starvation and heat exposure.This is exactly the type of misfortune that Grey2K argues would be prevented by outlawing the sport.Question 6:In 1986, Douglas J. Barth of Sudbury was waiting in line to pay at a Mass. Pike toll booth, when another motorist slammed into him from behind. It was something of an epiphany: At that moment, he said, he realized the toll system was poorly designed.His anger grew over the years as he spent, by his estimation, $500 a year on tolls for what he regards as an inefficient state road system. The last blow came when, paging through public library records, he realized the bonds that funded the Pike had been re-paid in 1984.''As corny as it sounds, I had a tremendous sense of outrage that the government is not keeping their word,'' said the 44-year-old father of two, who runs a small direct marketing company.He channeled his outrage into the design of a ballot question that would give commuters a tax credit for the tolls they pay every year, and rebate the excise tax that state motorists pay annually.In 1995, he missed the referendum signature target by 10,000 names. In 1997, he got twice as many as needed, but the state Supreme Judical Court invalidated his question. This year it is on the ballot as Question 6.Over the summer, his shoestring campaign was infused with $108,000 from John Finney, president of a Waltham-based tech firm, MJ Research. A group of Beacon Hill lawmakers are the main opposition to Question 6. They argue it would deprive the state of important revenue. But they have no organized campaign.Question 5:The most lopsided referendum battle is over what is likely to be the most far-reaching of all the ballot proposals, Question 5. It would mandate universal health coverage and could restructure the state's entire health care system.HMOs are prepared to spend $4 million in an effort to defeat it. In September, Blue Cross Blue Shield kicked in $494,811, the single biggest political contribution this year, according to state records.In fact, supporters of Question 5 are being outspent about 100-to-1, a disparity that could rise to 1,000-to-1 by Nov. 7. According to state records, they gathered just $34,000 last month, with all but $8,000 from a single source: Dr. John Goodson, a primary care doctor at Massachusetts General.''My grandfather was a doctor who made house calls. My father was a doctor, too, and he cared for poor blacks in St. Louis when no one else would,'' said Goodson. ''I want patient care to drive the system, not money.''But he is staggered by the sums being spent.''The amount of money in this campaign is pretty extraordinary. Just amazing,'' he said.Source: Boston Globe (MA)Author: Raja MishraPublished: October 16, 2000 Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company. Contact: letter globe.comAddress: P.O. Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378Website: Article:A Guide To Drug-Related State Ballot Initiatives
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