The Story of Prop. 15 and the Historic Coalition Behind It
The battle for Prop. 15 began long before the official committee was formed or the ballot number was assigned. Five years ago, a core group of racial and social justice organizations and labor unions convened to take on the impossible: closing the corporate tax loopholes that have drained billions from our schools and local communities. The historic coalition that organized behind Prop. 15 is a reflection of the widely held belief that California’s future demands greater public investment in the things we all value.
The central debate in the campaign for Prop. 15 was about what our priorities as a state should be and the structural reform needed to accomplish those priorities. Despite California ranking as the 5th largest economy in the world, we have the most overcrowded classrooms in the entire country and suffer from some of the worst rates of poverty and income inequality in the nation. Prop. 15 challenged Californians to break from tax giveaway policies and boldly confront the big challenges we face through sound investments.
The fight for Prop. 15 has exposed major cracks in the decades-old scare tactics big corporations use to bully voters into giving them tax loopholes so they can avoid paying their fair share. These are lies and scare tactics that were struck down by a court ruling for being “false and/or misleading” and multiple fact checks. This campaign showed that Californians are highly skeptical of these worn out old scare tactics.
The fight for Prop. 15 was many years in the making. It is a big step forward for a more equitable and prosperous state, and it provides a framework for future work and reform to truly take on the challenges of our times on behalf of all Californians.
From the very beginning, the Schools & Communities First coalition executed a multi-year strategy that took nothing for granted:
Historically broad coalition and more than 1,600 endorsers
The Schools & Communities First coalition, which expanded dramatically over the past several years, was anchored by some of the most influential groups in California:
California Teachers Association
California Federation of Teachers
Alliance San Diego
Yes on 15 garnered more than 1,600 endorsements from grassroots organizations, elected officials, frontline and essential workers, interfaith and business leaders, labor unions, nonprofits, and more. Here are just a few:
Former Vice President Joe Biden
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris
Governor Gavin Newsom
California Democratic Party
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
State Superintendent Tony Thurmond
Parent Teachers Association (PTA) of California
California Labor Federation
California League of Conservation Voters
Natural Resources Defense Council
Sierra Club California
ACLU of California
California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA)
League of Women Voters California
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California
California Nurses Association
California Professional Firefighters
California State Firefighters Association
Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce
Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce
Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Dolores Huerta Foundation
Californians for Justice
Working Partnerships USA
Economic Security Project
California School Employees Association
Alliance for a Better Community
Greater Public Schools Now
The people power in this broad coalition of working Californians, community groups, and leaders was a game changer on all fronts and was the driving force every step of the way. That same people power is what ultimately got us across the finish line, reaching out to tens of thousands of voters through newsletters, social media, texts, calls, postcards, mailers, voter guides, forums, panels, op-eds, LTEs, and more.
Massive ground game to expand the electorate
Starting more than five years before Prop. 15 ever made it to the ballot, the Schools & Communities First coalition began building a grassroots infrastructure: contacting voters and engaging in public education to build support to deliver critical votes.
This coalition waged the largest GOTV and persuasion program in California, with more than 100 organizations that mobilized 39,000 volunteer shifts to conduct more than 500 phone banks, texting, and digital outreach in the 8 weeks leading up to Election Day – making roughly 900,000 voter contacts.
Before this GOTV effort, the Schools & Communities First coalition made history by collecting and submitting more than 1.74 million signatures of support – the most in California history.
Yes on 15 held nearly 300 non-English phone banks in eleven languages, and hosted multiple virtual rallies that attracted thousands of Californians to engage more supporters and voters.
Reaching voters online
The campaign adapted to an evolving and increasingly-expensive market to mobilize the entire Democratic spectrum towards victory, starting significantly earlier than the opposition and other ballot initiatives competing for attention.
Beginning in November 2019, we made significant investments in building a social media following and a massive email list.
The campaign was able to reach up to 500,000 people online per day with Yes on 15 content that helped build an unparalleled audience, online advocacy efforts, and volunteer recruitment.
We targeted a critical group of voters with digital persuasion ads starting in January 2020, communicating with voters in multiple languages and crafting variations on the ads depending on the voters we were targeting. Despite unprecedented challenges in mobilizing voters, we continued innovating and adapting.
Exposing the corporate-backed opposition and their tax breaks
The opponents of Prop. 15 raised $75 million from corporations that benefit from tax loopholes, such as Blackstone and Chevron, to run a campaign to protect those tax breaks – outspending the Yes on 15 campaign by $20 million.
Throughout this campaign, the corporate-backed opposition and the tax breaks they benefit from were exposed:
KQED: 45 Fremont Street: How Commercial Real Estate Owners Avoid Higher Property Taxes
Los Angeles Times: Corporations get big edge in Prop. 13 quirk
Curbed: The Most Notorious Property-Tax Underpayers in California
KQED: Prop. 15 Would Close a Corporate Tax Loophole. Here's How It Got There in the First Place
Curbed: Dell Founder Using Prop. 13 Loophole to Save Bundle on Fairmont Miramar Taxes
Los Angeles Times: Column: Who’s opposing Proposition 15? Land developers and Big Business