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The Proposition P Campaign

Polls showed that Proposition P was leading by a 2-1 margin at the beginning of the campaign, but in the face of the industry attack, the margin narrowed. The industry's strategy was based on its success in previous campaigns. According to Nelson-Padberg's planning document of July 1983, the aim was to convince voters that the ordinance was “unnecessary, unworkable, or costly.”[23]

The first objective of the Nelson-Padberg campaign was to secure a list of voters from the most recent election—an effort to recall Mayor Dianne Feinstein because of her support for gun control—and to sort them by approximately one hundred variables. A phone canvas of likely voters was planned to identify those opposed to the ordinance; these voters would then receive a thank-you letter and an application for an absentee ballot. Undecided voters were to get a “gentle push” argument as well as intensive direct mail advertising. Nelson-Padberg planned for twenty paid people to work five shifts for sixty working days to accomplish the phone screen. The telephone canvas, which eventually reached 65,000 voter households, formed the basis for the industry's direct mail campaign, which was concentrated on likely voters, the relatively conservative western part of San Francisco, blacks, and gays.[26] The focus on the gay community was clear from the hiring of Foster and from the industry's effort early in the campaign to raise the fear that Proposition P would set a precedent that would be used to discriminate against people with AIDS.[20]

To make it difficult for Proposition P supporters to air their ads, Nelson-Padberg planned to delay its radio and television advertising until the final four weeks before the election. Unlike the tobacco industry with its essentially unlimited resources, the Yes on P committee had little money. While the proposition's supporters hoped to buy some television and radio advertising, they expected to get most of their advertising space for free under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s Fairness Doctrine. In 1983 the FCC still required that electronic media fairly present both sides of controversial issues. Since the passage of

Proposition P was obviously controversial, once the No side began running paid advertisements, the Yes side could approach the television and radio stations and ask for free time to respond. Nelson-Padberg recognized this possibility: “Earlier advertising would only stimulate additional Fairness Doctrine opportunities for our opponents, expose our advertising strategy to long scrutiny, and is not necessary due to the high voter awareness pre-existing the campaign.”[23]

Exposing the tobacco industry's backing of the No on P campaign was the central thrust of the ordinance supporters. They attacked the industry at every turn and sought to capitalize on public distrust of the tobacco industry. They also made a concerted effort to reduce the effectiveness of the No on P advertising by forcing the television and radio stations that were broadcasting the advertisements to disclose the real sponsor—the tobacco industry, not San Franciscans Against Government Intrusion. The Federal Communications Act requires that advertisements identify the true sponsor, and the advertisements against Proposition P listed only San Franciscans Against Governmental Intrusion as the sponsor, with no mention of the tobacco industry. Volunteer lawyers, including Loveday, pulled together extensive documentation that the industry was really paying for the advertisements. They argued that it was the stations (not the sponsors) who were responsible for seeing that the “tag lines” on the advertisements identified the true sponsors. At a press conference Loveday and others announced that they were sending formal letters to all radio and television stations running the No on P advertisements to demand that the tag lines be changed to “Paid for by the tobacco industry”; they threatened to file complaints with the FCC against stations that refused.

A few days later, the NBC affiliates in San Francisco—KRON television and KNBR radio—required that the No on P campaign clarify the tag line in its ads to indicate tobacco industry involvement.[20] Rather than adding an oral tag line saying that the campaign was paid for by the tobacco industry, the industry pulled its advertisements off KNBR, one of the largest radio stations in San Francisco. After threatening to sue the stations, the industry decided to acquiesce on the television advertisements and changed the visual tag line to get them back on the air (visual tag lines are not as prominent as oral ones).[26] Even if other stations did not respond directly to the pressure to correct the tag lines, raising the issue had helped highlight the tobacco industry's efforts to hide its political activities.


Nelson-Padberg recognized the effectiveness of the Yes on P strategy surrounding the tag lines:

Californians for Nonsmokers Rights did an excellent job of urging television stations to give them free television advertising time. Additionally, they were able to convince KRON-TV that the station should require our campaign to identify our advertising as having been “paid for by San Franciscans Against Government Intrusion which is financially supported by companies in the tobacco industry.” This requirement by KRON-TV stimulated extensive discussion by other television stations, radio stations, and daily newspapers in the city. In fact, this action by KRON served as a kind of a catalyst to the “money” issue, driving this issue into very sharp focus in the final days preceding the election.[26]

The favored campaign theme of the proponents got an important shot in the arm just three weeks before the election.

The Yes on P forces, having learned from the Proposition 5 and 10 campaigns to make the tobacco industry the issue, managed to maintain a consistent message throughout with the central theme “Tell the Tobacco Industry to Butt Out of San Francisco.” Working with a small advertising agency run by Edgar Spizel, they prepared two television advertisements making this point. One advertisement involved several well-known San Francisco politicians and other figures of varying political persuasions; they all agreed on one thing—that the tobacco industry should butt out of San Francisco politics. The other, which won an Addy award, showed a cowboy on horseback riding up a San Francisco street and urging people to tell the tobacco companies to “butt out” and “vote yes on P.”

While the Yes on P forces believed from the beginning that they had a real chance to win because an election contest against the tobacco industry in San Francisco would take less money than one throughout the entire state, they grew increasingly frustrated by the way city politicians were allowing personalities to interfere in running an effective campaign. According to Hanauer,

It was very exciting because we knew we were in the race this time. The polls showed that we had a good chance, that we weren't losing ground rapidly like we had in the other two campaigns. And we had support that we didn't have before, both editorially and [among] some business people. What we didn't have was Wendy Nelder's assistance. …She wanted to run her own campaign. She insisted on making her own television spots. They were atrocious. They were the epitome of the bad talking head…“Please vote `yes' on P because I say so.”…She was driving everybody crazy. …And we kept trying to persuade her, “Don't waste your money on these, as we have this wonderful advertising campaign.”


She had her heart in the right place. She was genuinely concerned about secondhand smoke, but she didn't know much about the health issue. And she didn't know the politics of tobacco.[4]

Quentin Kopp, who had a substantial constituency, was another source of frustration because of his reluctance to back a Nelder ordinance.[4] San Franciscans for Local Control wanted to use Kopp's name on a flyer being mailed to the Sunset district, the conservative neighborhood (at least by local standards) in western San Francisco where Kopp lived and his name would carry weight. Kopp refused, even though he supported the ordinance.

On November 3, 1983, six days before the election, Tarrance and Associates reported that Proposition P was still on the way to passing: 50 percent planned to vote “yes,” 38 percent “no,” and 12 percent was undecided. The Tarrance report added, “On the YES side, there are three main arguments: non-smokers' rights, health hazard, annoyance/irritation. Not only do these three messages hold together well, they are unanswerable and seem to be dominating the campaign.”[27] Even before the election results were known, the tobacco companies were beginning to worry about the fallout. On November 4, 1983, Gene Ainsworth of RJ Reynolds forwarded the Tarrance poll to Ed Horrigan (an RJR executive), with this comment:

Passage of the tough Workplace Smoking Ordinance in San Francisco, with all its attendant press coverage, will trigger a rush to pass similar legislation in many areas of the nation—especially in California. In light of these probable developments the industry needs to consider, on a priority basis, the preparation of a Model Ordinance…as a “stop-gap” measure which can be used if the situation in any particular area gets out of control. …The long term counter to San Francisco type legislation is the implementation of an effective industry program to address the issue.[28] [emphasis added]

The win in San Francisco was not only national but international news. ABC's Nightline devoted its election-evening program to the Proposition P victory, and CBS's 60 Minutes did a segment on the campaign. The margin of victory was narrow—1,259 votes—but it was a victory nonetheless and it set the stage for other localities to pass ordinances.

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