Was Prop 29 a Fraud Too?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

There’s an unexplored California political angle on the Lance Armstrong story: was Prop 29 – the ballot initiative he backed last spring – part of his anti-cancer cover for doping?

Even asking that question will almost certainly enrage the health advocates and cancer groups who backed the initiative. But it’s still a fair question. Armstrong was front and center as an advocate for and backer of Prop 29, but now that we know that he wasn’t for real, it’s the right time to ask the same about the initiative.

Prop 29, as you may recall, combined a very solid piece of tax policy – higher taxes on cigarettes – with a very questionable piece of ballot box budgeting – placing the money not in the cash-starved general fund but in special funds for cancer research and research facilities (with lesser amounts going to tobacco control and law enforcement). Cancer – both research and living the disease – was the focus of Armstrong’s philanthropy, which has now been largely exposed as a cover for rampant cheating and as a weapon for fending off those who questioned his cycling career.

Prop 29 was leading in the polls, but lost, deservedly, because of two attacks. The first was an onslaught of ads by cigarette makers, that raised questions, sometimes in misleading ways, about the initiative. The second was more good government analysis of its ballot-box budget problems by newspapers and commentators.

The backers of Prop 29, in defeat, cried foul and suggested they were purely the victims of Big Tobacco political cheating.

Now we know their side was compromised by a cheater in its midst.

These facts merit two responses. First, they should issue an apology to the public both for Armstrong’s backing and for their lashing out at legitimate critics of their flawed measure. And second, they should offer a new ballot initiative with a cigarette tax that gives the money to the state treasury, and not to new funds for specific favored disease funds.

Funds that, which as we now see, can serve as cover for some pretty reprehensible people.

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