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Collecting the Signatures

On December 4, 1987, volunteers and paid circulators began collecting signatures throughout the state. The Coalition held statewide press conferences on December 16 to launch the petition drive, and it received extensive media coverage.[16][17] The tobacco industry, which had hired the Sacramento-based political consulting firm Townsend and Company to conduct its campaign activities, formed Californians Against Unfair Tax Increases (CAUTI) and immediately denounced the initiative.[17]

The financial status of the Coalition was extremely important to the

success of the ongoing signature drive. Chronically short of money, the Coalition depended almost entirely on the financial contributions of its Executive Committee members.[18] According to Nicholl,

“We tried to work the corporate self-interest angle and the medical industries. Tried to work all the professional associations, and the suppliers, and people who would benefit by more money being pumped into the service delivery end of the health care system. …None of it worked; it was a complete failure. …The only things that worked were the institutional interests that were built into the text of the initiative. That's what worked. The hospitals primarily, because they were going to get millions and millions, hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And the Cancer Society, because this was its mission statement. Lung Association, same way.”[6]

In addition, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR), while not actively participating in the campaign, allowed the Coalition free use of its mailing list as well as access to its large network of politically oriented grassroots volunteers.[19]

The Coalition experienced several problems during its signature-gathering campaign. The start of the petition drive in the middle of December coincided with the holiday season, and bad weather during the winter months caused an initial low return in signatures. After the first month and a relatively slow start, Campaign California and its grassroots network of volunteers joined the signature-collecting effort as additional paid circulators.[20] Other initiative campaigns, also aimed at the November 1988 election, were paying professional petitioning firms forty-five cents to seventy-five cents per signature; Masterton was paying only thirty cents to thirty-five cents per signature, which reduced the number of paid circulators working for the Coalition.[21] As it had planned the previous September, the tobacco industry even began circulating its own petition, entitled “The Tobacco Tax Ripoff.”[5][22] This petition was not an official one approved by the secretary of state to qualify an industry-sponsored initiative; it was solely designed to reduce the pool of available paid circulators (by paying them as much as fifty cents per signature) and to confuse voters about the tobacco tax issue.

The voluntary health agencies had an overly optimistic view of the commitment and effectiveness of their local units in gathering most of the signatures. Their inability to get signatures surprised Nethery:

I anticipated that the volunteers, mainly meaning Heart and Lung and Cancer, would collect two-thirds of signatures. In reality they probably collected less than a third. What the truth of the matter was, and maybe I was naive, was that voluntary health agency volunteers are not psychologically and

mentally equipped to get involved in political campaigns. They're out to do good and be nice people, and raise funds for other people. But they're not there to go toe to toe with anybody, whether it be on television or whether it be in the media, or anything.[23]

Those who had observed the ability of the Propositions 5 and 10 campaigns to gather signatures through an all-volunteer effort failed to take into account the difference between the ANR and the voluntary health agencies. ANR had its roots in political activism. The voluntary health agencies had their roots in medical practice and middle-class charity. For ANR, political involvement was assumed; for the health agencies, it was often a dubious enterprise. The health agencies' ambivalence about political involvement would continue throughout the Proposition 99 battles, including the efforts to secure implementing legislation that reflected the initiative.

The CMA was not of much help to the signature-gathering campaign. A confidential report, dated March 29, 1988, and entitled “Tobacco Tax Initiative,” summarized the weaknesses of the Coalition campaign and expressed qualms about backing the initiative. The author, “JM” (probably Jay Michael), reported:

  1. The campaign is broke, and the signature effort is slowing down,
  2. Campaign owes American Lung Association $25,000
  3. Jack Nicholl, the campaign director, is an unknown quantity and Gilanto—the ad man is also unknown. If the initiative qualifies it is uncertain that this team has the expertise to carry off the campaign.
  4. A minimum of $2 million is needed to conduct the most basic campaign. Nobody has the slightest idea of how the money might be raised.
  5. The tobacco industry has in its possession the most sophisticated data attainable on which to develop strategy and is prepared to spend whatever is necessary to defeat the proposal. They have bought options to retain the best campaign management available. Campaign strategy is beginning to jell.
  6. The proponents possess only fragmentary data, thin expertise, no strategy and is broke.
  7. The tobacco industry is planning a “doctor/hospital bashing campaign.”

Watershed Decisions Faced by CMA

  1. Do we want the initiative to qualify?
  2. Do we want to attempt to gain some measure of control over the direction of the campaign?
  3. Do we need to protect physicians from a doctor-bashing campaign?
  4. What will be CMA's financial involvement in the campaign?[24]


The CMA proposed to work with CAHHS to gain some control over the campaign. It also proposed to “Meet with industry representatives in an attempt to circumscribe the type of campaign each side might wage.”[24] The CMA was apparently continuing to work both sides of the fence, participating minimally in the Coalition while consulting with the tobacco industry. Whatever the results of the meetings with tobacco industry representatives, the industry eventually appeared to pull its punches somewhat on the doctor-bashing theme once the campaign began.

In the end, 73 percent of the signatures were gathered by paid circulators (66 percent from Masterton and 7 percent from Campaign California), 9 percent from ALA, 5 percent from ACS, 6 percent from CAHHS, 2 percent from the CMA, and the rest from mail efforts and miscellaneous sources.[25] The Coalition collected 1,125,290 raw signatures by the May 4, 1988, deadline, and the initiative qualified for the November 1988 election as Proposition 99.[26]

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Beating the Tobacco Industry at the Polls
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