No on Proposition 53
Proposition 53 would have required a statewide vote on revenue bonds of $2 billion or more. Prop 53 was funded entirely by one wealthy farmer in an attempt to block the California Water Fix, a project near his home. But the initiative was broadly written and would have stopped or stalled other vital infrastructure projects throughout California. BCF was hired by the California Chamber of Commerce and State Building & Construction Trades Council to manage the campaign and develop a winning strategy, message frame, campaign plan and budget.
Developing a Winning Strategy
Early polling showed the concept of voting on revenue bonds was attractive to voters. In fact, early research had the ballot label passing by a 40-point margin. However, extensive policy research uncovered significant flaws in the measure that were unattractive to voters. After thorough voter and policy research, BCF devised a campaign frame and strategy that effectively undercut proponents’ strongest argument: we labeled Prop 53 as an “attack on local control” that let voters from faraway regions of the state veto local community infrastructure projects voters wanted in their region. We also highlighted the measure’s deceptive nature (funded by one multi-millionaire) and the detrimental impact on vital local infrastructure projects, including projects in response to emergencies or disasters.
BCF oversaw all aspects of the campaign. One of the biggest challenges was planning for a paid media buy with an uncertain budget – the most significant contributions came in very late in the campaign after Governor Brown got involved. Our campaign had to be extremely precise with our allocation of resources to make every dollar have maximum impact in a crowded electorate where more than $500 million was spent on ballot initiative advertising alone. BCF managed a complex but lean budget, often allocating resources by the hour.
BCF built a robust coalition of more than 350 organizations – groups that don’t traditionally align – and we activated the coalition in an aggressive grassroots campaign, penning opeds, participating in social media, communicating with their membership, pushing GOTV, and appearing in campaign advertising and mail. Importantly, BCF identified local spokespersons for each major media market to lend credibility to the “local control” frame that was central to success.
Press and Earned Media
BCF oversaw consultants (Forza Communications) that managed earned media. BCF worked with Forza to identify and prepare coalition members to meet with editorial boards, fielded on-camera interview requests, identified authors for op-eds, and organized regional press conferences with Governor Brown across the state. Almost every editorial board in California wrote in opposition to Prop 53, and the press conferences were heavily covered by major media outlets.
BCF worked with SCN Strategies and oversaw development of the media buy and production of television ads and digital and social ads. We also worked with JPM&M on direct mail. Given our limited budget, we knew we had the resources for two different waves of advertising. The first wave of ads featured local firefighters from every major region warning that Prop 53 was an attack on local control that was dangerous because it failed to contain exemptions for emergencies. Wave 2 ads featured Governor Jerry Brown. Ultimately, the Governor’s credibility was key to winning over voters in a crowded ballot where confusion over Prop 53 was significant. Once we began campaign advertising, polling showed a dramatic drop in support and significant increase in opposition to Prop 53.
After starting with a 40 point deficit, Prop 53 was defeated 50.58% to 49.42%.