Among the 150 or so referendums on the ballot this year is the first carbon tax in the nation (Washington), a spurious industry attempt to put the cabbash on solar (Florida) and a referendum in Colorado that would prevent citizens efforts to rein in fracking. There are also voter initiatives that benefit farm animals and wildlife.
As of mid-September, corporations spent over $140 million to defeat state ballot initiatives, outspending grass roots opponents 10-fold, according a report by Public Citizen, Big Business Ballot Bullies.
The report examines 8 initiatives in five states where corporations have poured in disproportionate sums - California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and South Dakota.
Read about South Dakota's referendum on campaign spending here.
The widest disparity between corporate-backed spending and the opposition has been in Colorado. Outspent 24-1, the "Mandatory Setback from Oil and Gas Development" Amendment couldn't even get on the ballot. It simply required setbacks from homes and schools for oil and gas drilling.
Another referendum that didn't get on the ballot was "Local Governmental Control of Oil and Gas Development," which would have mandated local rule over whether oil and gas extraction is allowed.
Question 71 - vote NO
But an oil and gas industry initiative is on the ballot, "Raise the Bar." It was written by Vital for Colorado - a front group for the oil and gas industry, says Greenpeace. The fossil industry spent 74% of the $4.2 million raised to promote the referendum and a wide range of business interests are backing it.
Fracking activists can't help but connect the dots between their ballot efforts and this one - funded by the oil industry - to block their future efforts. But it goes further than that.
Colorado is one of the few states where the bar is low enough for a constitution-changing referendum to get on the ballot. It requires signatures from 5% of people who voted in the last election.
If Question 71 passes that will no longer be the case. It stacks the deck for special interests and against citizens - to get on the ballot signatures of 2% of registered voters from all 35 state senate districts would have to be gathered, and 55% of voters would have to vote yes, instead of the simple majority required now.
Proponents argue their goal is to prevent any special interest from being able to amend the constitution, but these changes only stack the deck in their favor because the process would be so expensive. It's backed by a wide range of business interests.
This week Greenpeace began flying a blimp over Denver, Boulder and Ft. Collins, urging No Votes on Amendment 71.
Washington State's Initiative 732 - Carbon Tax - vote YES
If this passes, Washington will be the first state to implement a carbon tax. Unfortunately, voters are likely to be confused because environmental groups like Sierra Club don't support it.
For something as important as this, it's really sad that the various groups couldn't come together on an initiative they could all get behind.
Similar to British Columbia's successful carbon tax, it would tax the use of fossil fuels and use the money to reduce taxes for lower income families in the state. Sierra Club, for example, is against it because it would drain state revenues and wants the money (over $1 billion a year) to go toward investments in education, transportation and clean energy. Learn more.
Middleton, Wisconsin: Middleton Climate Referendum
This is the first measure where citizens would tell their city they want action on climate change. It asks if the city should develop actions and policies that reduce the threat of climate change and whether it should support a federal price on carbon that uses profits to lower income taxes for middle-and-lower income taxpayers.
So far, 33 municipalities have passed this resolution, but this would be the first time citizens directly endorse it instead of lawmakers.
In August, the California became the first state to pass this resolution, urging Congress to price carbon through this kind of cap-and-trade program. Learn more.
Florida's Amendment 1: Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice - Vote NO
It's called the "solar decoy initiative" for a reason: the referendum - which would be inserted into the state constitution - reads like the goal is to expand consumer choice through easier access to rooftop solar, but it actually maintains utilities' monopolies.
Solar companies are suing over the deceptive initiative. They have asked Florida's Supreme Court to examine the amendment's language and for the vote results to be embargoed until it makes a decision.
It says: "Amendment 1 establishes a right under Florida's constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do."
Sponsored by the utility-backed Consumers for Smart Solar, it's been infused with $21 million from Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light. Koch-backed groups and others are also involved. The political group was "formed to undercut attempts to allow third-party sales of rooftop solar by leaving voters with the impression that their amendment will expand solar generation in Florida," says Miami Herald.
While the first sentence sounds good, the second sentence is the motto we've been hearing from utilities around the country as they try to defend their monopolies and traditional business models - solar owners are "free loaders" on the grid and should pay their fair share through extra monthly charges. Those charges have been proved to discourage adoption of solar, exactly what utilities want.
Sunny Florida is a wasteland when it comes to solar. When all incentives were eliminated, a local Republican started Floridians for Solar Choice to get a referendum on the ballot. It would allow people to sell the solar electricity they generate directly to others, instead of only going through utilities. It didn't get on the ballot.
Instead, the utility-backed amendment did and it looks like it will pass. "This is an attempt to block the private solar market in Florida, says Tampa Bay Times, who recommends voting against it.
Sal Nuzzo, policy director of a think tank supported by Florida's largest electric utilities, admitted the intention behind the amendment. At a conference, he called it "an incredibly savvy maneuver" that "would completely negate anything pro-solar interests would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road," reports Miami Herald. "Solar polls very well," he said as he explained the "political jiu-jitsu" utilities used to their benefit.
Learn the facts about Amendment 1.
In August, voters passed Amendment 4, a true pro-solar referendum. It exempts renewable energy equipment on homes and commercial buildings from property taxes.
Nevada: Question 3 - vote YES
Sponsored by Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choice, this measure opens the state's energy market to competition, also addressing the state's utility monopoly.
The thriving solar industry there has been decimated since the company convinced regulators to pile on extra charges for solar owners, while greatly reducing their payments for the energy they send to the grid.
California: Proposition 67 - vote YES; Prop 65 - vote NO
Two plastic ban referendums are on the ballot - Prop 67, which upholds the state's ban on plastic grocery bags, and Prop 65, backed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which allows sales of plastic bags and earmarks the money for a new Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund. California's Republican Party backs Prop 65; California's Democratic Party and environmental groups back Prop 67. Learn more.
Wildlife & Farm Animals
Some of the most tangible wins for animals have been achieved through ballot initiatives, says Wayne Pacelle, who heads the Humane Society of the United States.
Massachusetts: Question 3 -vote YES
Bans confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens in factory farms, and stipulates that no animal products from such animals can be sold in the state, no matter where they originate from.
The agribusiness lobby sued to keep this off the ballot, but the state's Supreme Court ruled against them.
Montana: I-177- vote YES
Ends commercial and recreational trapping of wildlife on public lands.
Steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps are indiscriminate, cruel, and dangerous, and make public lands unsafe for pets and wildlife.
Oregon: Measure 100 - vote Yes
Shuts down local markets to wildlife trafficking, joining California, Washington and Hawaii, which have these laws.
Oklahoma: Question 777, Right to Farm - vote NO
This constitutional amendment, more accurately called "Right to Harm," prevents voters and even legislators from making reforms on animal welfare and the quality of the state's land, air, and water.
"It is so broadly and vaguely written that anyone describing themselves as being involved in agricultural production and technology will be shielded from future oversight or accountability by the state, including puppy mills and cockfighting operations," explains Pacelle.
Learn more about these referendums.
For all the ballot initiatives across the country and recommendations on how to vote: