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Money pours into ballot question campaigns

A push to keep bottle deposits off water and sports drinks is swimming in money, and an effort to stymie a repeal of the state’s casino law hit the jackpot.

Two months before the November election, campaign finance filings through the end of August show wide fund-raising gaps between the committees on either side of all four statewide ballot questions.

In the starkest money mismatch, the No on Question 2 committee, which opposes changes to the state bottle deposit law, has taken in more than $5 million in 2014; two committees that support the measure received about $145,000 combined. Nearly all of No on 2’s money came from the American Beverage Association; nearly all of the Yes on 2 money came from the Sierra Club.


The group pushing for approval of Question 2 sought to position the issue as a David-and-Goliath showdown, pitting hikers and environmentalists against business interests.

“The voters will now see that this campaign is the people vs. big beverage companies,” Janet Domenitz, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, said in an e-mailed statement.

If approved, Question 2 would change the state’s recycling law to require 5-cent deposits on water and sports drinks that are not covered under existing law. While proponents say the move would cut down on littering, those opposed say bottle deposits are costly for consumers and inefficient.

Nicole Giambusso of No on Question 2 said the opposition has grass-roots support.

“We have a lot of grocers, individuals, community organizations who are opposed to Question 2,” she said, because of the expected rise in grocery bills that would accompany approval.

Most of the $5.4 million received by the committee was paid to Goddard Gunster Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based advertising firm. Television ads will begin to air in the weeks ahead, she said.


Supporters of Question 3, which would thwart the state’s planned casino gambling expansion, are facing off against a high-rolling campaign to kill the measure after gambling interests donated $1.7 million to the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs. That includes $1.2 million from Penn National Gaming Inc., which holds a slot machine parlor license for Plainville, and $500,000 from MGM Resorts International, which seeks to build a casino in Springfield.

The committee spent nearly $600,000 in July and August, largely on ads, polls, consultants, and strategists. That is more than twice as much as the approximately $250,000 the group pushing to repeal the casino law has collected since January.

Though the latest campaign finance reports show scores of small donors on the anticasino side, the procasino group also has a grass-roots coalition, said Justine Griffin, spokeswoman for the procasino group, with bumper stickers on their third printing.

Further, she said, “we cannot assume that casino gaming interests in neighboring states won’t become involved” in the race in an effort to protect nearly $1 billion in annual revenue they get from Massachusetts voters gambling out of state.

But Steven Eisele — a spokesman for Repeal the Casino Deal, the committee urging a yes vote on Question 3 — said the campaign would decline donations from out-of-state casino interests and believes it will raise enough money in coming weeks to stay competitive.

Other ballot questions have so far attracted fewer dollars.

Question 1 would repeal the automatic annual adjustment of the state gas tax based on the consumer price index. The Committee for Safer Roads and Bridges, which opposes the question, took in more than $800,000 by the end of August.


The money came from about 100 donations, many of which were from construction firms. A $100,000 contribution from the Massachusetts Aggregate and Asphalt Pavement Association was the largest donation.

A group pushing for approval of Question 1, Committee to Tank the Automatic Gas Tax Hikes, took in about $55,000 almost entirely through small donations from individuals.

And Raise Up Massachusetts, a committee supporting the approval of Question 4, which would mandate earned sick time for employees, collected nearly $300,000, mostly from labor unions and social justice groups.

A political action committee for the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which opposes the measure, collected and spent about $2,500 from January through October, with all the money going to various candidates’ committees.

Nestor Ramos can be reached at nestor.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.