Politics & Government

California measure to limit farm cages attracts big donations

WASHINGTON — A California ballot measure giving farm animals more living space is attracting out-of-state donors in serious numbers.

Opponents and supporters alike are pouring millions of dollars into the fight over Proposition 2, which essentially would loosen animal cages. One way or another, farmers and animal-rights advocates seem to agree, California's become a national battleground.

"What we see in California could set the stage for the other states as well," Kelli Ludlum, public policy specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Wednesday.

Proposition 2 would require that starting in 2015, calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be provided space to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. Proponents say it would prevent animal cruelty; opponents say it would unnecessarily harm farmers and consumers by raising domestic prices and exposing consumers to cheaper, ostensibly more dangerous eggs from other countries.

The Washington-based Humane Society of the United States has contributed more than $3.6 million to the Proposition 2 effort since September 2007. This is the big muscle behind a campaign that has raised more than $5.7 million since January, California secretary of state records show.

The Humane Society's contributions have come in a steady stream of checks, including a $33,000 contribution received Friday. They've been accompanied by celebrity contributions, including $10,000 from Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire, $5,000 from actor/musician Jared Leto and $3,600 from former "Saturday Night Live" actress Victoria Jackson. Individual donations have also come in from Humane Society employees, some of whom have been dispatched from the East Coast to work on the ground in California.

"We feel this is an issue that's very important to our 1.3 million members in California," Michael Markarian, the Humane Society's executive vice president, said Wednesday.

Markarian added that Californians accounted for 63 percent of the 17,000 individual donors that have contributed so far to the Proposition 2 campaign. He contrasted this "grassroots" effort with the "corporate" interests lined up in opposition.

Contributing against Proposition 2, most recently, was the Texas-based railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which on Tuesday delivered a $14,000 contribution. This check piled onto the $6.7 million raised by the anti-Proposition 2 forces from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30.

More than $4.7 million, or at least two-thirds, of the anti-Proposition 2 money raised so far has come from outside California, a McClatchy review of California secretary of state records shows. These include some of the largest contributions, such as a $517,265 donation made last month by the Indiana-based egg producer Rose Acre Farms.

Farm bureaus from Florida to Texas have likewise pumped in money. So have national organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, which contributed $50,000 last week, and the Georgia-based United Egg Producers, which has contributed $185,000.

"They want to protect their livelihood," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Wednesday. "People from around the country ... want to be sure the insanity that starts in California won't spread."

Both sides are using the money to sway a public that started the election season largely unfamiliar with the details of Proposition 2. Only 16 percent of Californians surveyed by the Field Poll in July knew anything about the ballot measure. Once informed of the arguments on both sides, 63 percent of surveyed California likely voters said they were inclined to support limits on animal cages.

The pro-Proposition 2 forces ran their first statewide television ads starting Oct. 6, and the anti-Proposition 2 team went up with its first television ad Oct. 14.

"It's an uphill battle for us," Ludlum said. "We're sort of playing catch-up."


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