Measure 92 Recap: Money, Media and Memories

Rick North Facebook

Only one actual human being donated more than $100 to the No campaign.

Yesterday, Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown certified the results of Measure 92, officially confirming its loss by a whisker-thin 837 votes out of more than 1.5 million votes cast. The Yes campaign’s last-ditch legal challenge to approve 4,600 invalidated ballots failed, sealing its fate.

The initiative was about a lot of things – consumers’ right to know what’s in their food, voter turnout, the recount, mismatched signatures, and the continuing controversy over the safety of genetically engineered food.

But more than anything else, Measure 92 was about money.

Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Kraft, Land O’ Lakes and other food giants dumped millions into Oregon because they knew some consumers would see the GMO labels and not buy their products. Monsanto, Dow and DuPont did the same because the ripple effect of more consumers buying non-GMO products would mean fewer farmers buying their genetically engineered seeds and pesticides used with them.

The initiative set two all-time records for Oregon, the overall contribution total of about $29 million and the No campaign’s donations of nearly $21 million. The No campaign in California’s 2012 labeling initiative totaled $46 million, a little more than twice as much as here. California has ten times our population, putting into perspective the massive amount the opposition spent in Oregon.

Out of the No campaign’s total contributions, over 99.99% came from out-of-state corporations, led by Monsanto’s $5,958,750 and DuPont’s $4,518,150.

The state’s website combines individual donations $100 and under. Based on a grand total of $726, only a few dozen people at most (not corporations) donated to the No campaign. In contrast, over 17,900 individuals contributed to the Yes campaign. Only one actual human being donated more than $100 to the No campaign. If there was a Guinness Book of World Records category for lack of grassroots support in an election, the No campaign wins hands-down.

But the fact remains – they also won the election. Some unforgettable memories:

The effectiveness of No’s ads Much of this was the sheer volume and repetition that all that money bought, including TV, radio, internet, direct mail and telephone town halls – there was no escape. Blue Oregon wasn’t immune. I frequently saw three No ads attached to my own columns – on top, on the side and on the bottom.

But the ads themselves successfully misled voters. I heard from dozens of people who were afraid of rising food costs and hurting farmers. These ads were fiction (Remember the wheat farmer on TV saying it would cost farmers millions? Commercially-approved genetically engineered wheat doesn’t even exist), but if you didn’t know better, they still worked, especially on undecided voters.

Media On July 5, only three days after the Yes campaign submitted 155,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, the Oregonian wrote the first of numerous editorials opposing it. It’s disappointing (but not surprising) that the editorial board members made up their minds without even talking to the Yes campaign first.

I was surprised by Willamette Week’s opposition and by its condescending statement parroting the Oregonian: “We worry that all labeling would do is confuse and frighten people.” The fact that consumers in 64 other countries that label GMO’s negotiate their grocery aisles clear-headed and unafraid didn’t seem to matter.

Jackson and Josephine counties Democrats/progressives tended to favor Measure 92 while Republicans/conservatives tended to oppose it. But Jackson and Josephine counties, which had both voted overwhelmingly last May to ban the growing of genetically engineered crops, bucked the trend. Jackson voted over 55% yes and Josephine, even more heavily Republican, voted 49% yes. Southern Oregon residents arguably have seen more farmer-led arguments against GMO’s than anywhere else in the state. Mirroring my experience, the more people know about GMO’s, the more opposed they are, and more inclined to favor labeling.

Going door-to-door Along with hundreds of other volunteers, I went door-to-door numerous times, during the traditional get-out-the-vote effort and the “ballot chase” to urge voters with invalid ballots to correct their signature problems.

Simply put, Oregonians are really nice. I remember all of two people who were nasty, among hundreds who were friendly, no matter how they were voting.

The recount The original machine ballot count showed the Yes side down 812 votes. The hand recount ended up with the Yes side down 837. The mismatched signature controversy aside, this tiny 25-vote difference is a pretty impressive statement on Oregon’s vote-counting integrity and accuracy. We’re not Florida.

On the negative side, at least one county, Deschutes, didn’t allow observers near a number of tables of election workers, making it impossible for them to see votes on the ballots being counted. Oregon should remedy this unfair inconsistency between counties before next year’s elections.

The Election Night parties The Yes party was a noisy, festive celebration held in a large hall at the Left Bank annex. There were an estimated 150-200 people there, the vast majority of them volunteers, donors and non-profit representatives who endorsed the measure, plus campaign staff.

The No “party” was a small, vacant conference room for media at the Embassy Suites hotel – no food, no drinks, no music. And no people. Just a table, chairs, one lonely lectern and a black curtain on one side of the room. Note the picture from the Portland Mercury.

I felt bad after the loss, but at least I never felt the hollow emptiness of that room. It captures perfectly the essence of the corporations behind the black curtain who defeated Measure 92.

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