"The tobacco companies realize that we have a like mind in opposing both tax burdens and policies that create a business-unfriendly environment," said Joel Fox, president of the Los Angeles-based Small Business Action Committee, which he said has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from tobacco companies to support anti-tax policies in the last decade. "It's the first domino of potentially taxing all kinds of products."
The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office says Proposition 29 would generate about $735 million a year in revenue if approved.
The anti-tax campaign has been quick on the ground, launching radio and TV commercials a month and a half ago.
Armstrong and his coalition, including the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and California Medical Association, were too poor to mount an early advertising campaign, he said.
Aside from Armstrong, who visited with young patients during an event at a Los Angeles children's hospital earlier this month, the measure has not attracted much celebrity support. Laura Ziskin, a Hollywood producer celebrated for the "Spider-Man" movie franchise, was on the initiative's campaign board until she died last year of breast cancer.
Even so, in the final days before the primary, the battle over Proposition 29 is arguably the most high-profile campaign in an election season that has failed to generate much enthusiasm.
"The supporters and opponents wouldn't spend these millions of dollars if these commercials weren't persuading voters," said Daniel Newman, president of MapLight, a nonpartisan group that analyzes money's role in politics. "When one side has a specific financial interest, they are going to spend much more because they get such a high return on investment."
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