Jim de Bree: Those deceptive political ads


One of the infuriating aspects of elections is trying to ferret out the deception in political advertisements. This is especially true with propositions.

Special interests spend a fortune on advertisements that are designed to elicit a visceral response rather than a reasoned decision.

Hopefully this column can provide some skepticism to uncover the deceit in the advertisements we see over and over again.

Let’s start with Proposition 53, which would require voter approval before the state could issue certain types of revenue bonds exceeding $2 billion.

The idea is behind the proposition is to prevent the state Legislature from issuing revenue bonds to finance infrastructure projects without voter approval.

You have probably seen the commercial with the concerned fireman saying that Proposition 53 will prevent local communities from making repairs in the event of a disaster.

The commercial is pretty scary as it shows an apocalyptic post-earthquake Los Angeles with digitally added plumes of smoke enveloping the city.

The only problem with the advertisement is that emergency repairs are not typically funded by state-issued revenue bonds covered by this measure. They are funded by federal aid.

Thus the commercials opposing Proposition 53 are misleading. No wonder – they are sponsored by contractors and labor unions who construct projects like the bullet train.

Their cost overruns are typically funded by revenue bonds rubber-stamped by the Legislature.

Next up is the opposition to Proposition 55. The commercials lament how school programs were curtailed as the result of the Great Recession. Proposition 55 is ostensibly needed to prevent such cuts from recurring.

However, the real driver of school costs are teachers’ pensions, which eat up more of the educational budget each year. The rate of growth of these costs is unsustainable and will likely result in future educational cuts at some point in the future – even if Proposition 55 passes.

The advertisements, funded by the teachers’ unions, state the proposition does not add any new taxes. Well, that depends on how you define “new taxes.”

In 2012, a temporary tax was imposed by Proposition 30. Those taxes are expiring and Proposition 55 seeks to extend the temporary tax another 12 years.

The question is whether the extension of an existing tax that was scheduled to expire is a “new tax.”

Proposition 56 would impose a tax of $2 per pack on cigarettes. Obviously, the tobacco industry is funding the opposition.

The ads claim that only 13 percent of the tax revenue would go to stop people from smoking; the remainder would go to “wealthy special interests.” The special interests, in this case, are Medi-Cal and other state agencies that are bearing the cost of treating poor people who are seriously ill because of tobacco consumption.

These costs of treatment are currently funded by taxpayers. Proposition 56 seeks to transfer a portion of those costs to the population who smokes.

This brings me to my favorite deceptive advertising – the commercials for the No on 61 campaign.

You have seen them. They typically show a veteran, frequently displaying his medals, explaining how he is going to get screwed because Proposition 61 is going to force the Veterans Administration to charge more for prescription medications.

While the commercials are real tear-jerkers, if you read the fine print at the end of the advertisement you’ll stop crying. The principal sponsors are two pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Merck.

Following the commercials’ logic, we need to vote against Proposition 61 to prevent the pharmaceutical companies from gouging veterans like they gouge everyone else.

Proposition 61 would place a ceiling on prescription drug prices equal to what the VA pays for sales to the state’s Medi-Cal program and other state-funded programs.

Currently, each program must separately negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies. Approximately one in eight Californians obtain their prescription drugs through a state program.

The VA has more clout with the pharmaceutical companies. Consequently, it negotiates a better price than what the state agencies pay.

The VA has a published price list, which by law must be no more than 76 percent of list price. The price cannot increase by more than the change in the Consumer Price Index, so the pharmaceutical companies cannot increase their price beyond the general rate of inflation. The VA sometimes negotiates prices lower than this.

The pharmaceutical companies claim that the additional price cuts negotiated by the VA will disappear if Proposition 61 passes. Clearly, the pharmaceutical companies believe they cannot make up the lost revenue by increasing what they charge the VA, so they have spent over $100 million opposing Proposition 61.

The bottom line is don’t be deceived by commercials when deciding how to vote.

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.

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