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Deep Pockets Defeat Prop 46

Statewide polling this summer found that most voters supported a ballot initiative to lift a decades-old cap on courtroom damages for medical negligence. The favorable opinions didn’t last.

A multimillion-dollar torrent of negative advertising, mostly financed by insurance companies and doctors, doomed Proposition 46 on Tuesday, again affirming the power of deep pockets in California politics.

The battle over Proposition 46 pitted trial lawyers against doctors and insurers and became an example of how money can tip the balance in campaigns. The committee opposing it banked roughly $60 million, most of it from insurance companies. That was more than six times the amount stockpiled by the losing side, which included trial lawyers and Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group.

According to an analysis by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, six of the 10 largest donations to ballot propositions this year in California went to the committee opposing Proposition 46, including $10 million from the Norcal Mutual Insurance Co., more than $10 million from the Cooperative of American Physicians and more than $5 million from the California Medical Association.

The vanquished proposal also called for random drug and alcohol tests for doctors and for requiring doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing painkillers and other powerful drugs.

“It’s always good to be on the ‘no’ side with money,” noted Robert Stern, a campaign finance expert, since it’s typically easier to persuade a voter to reject a proposition.


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