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Big spenders, as usual, end up with victories
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Statewide polling this summer found that most voters supported a ballot initiative to lift a decades-old cap on courtroom damages for medical negligence. The favorable opinions didn’t last.

A multimillion-dollar torrent of negative advertising, mostly financed by insurance companies and doctors, doomed Proposition 46 on Tuesday, again affirming the power of deep pockets in California politics.

The winner on Election Day? Typically, it was the candidate or cause with the most money.

The battle over Proposition 46 pitted trial lawyers against doctors and insurers and became an example of how money can tip the balance in campaigns.

The committee opposing it banked roughly $60 million, most of it from insurance companies. That was more than six times the amount stockpiled by the losing side, which included trial lawyers and Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based advocacy group.

According to an analysis by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics, six of the 10 largest donations to ballot propositions this year in California went to the committee opposing Proposition 46, including $10 million from the Norcal Mutual Insurance Co., more than $10 million from the Cooperative of American Physicians and more than $5 million from the California Medical Association.

The vanquished proposal also called for random drug and alcohol tests for doctors and for requiring doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing painkillers and other powerful drugs.

“It’s always good to be on the ‘no’ side with money,” noted Robert Stern, a campaign finance expert, since it’s typically easier to persuade a voter to reject a proposition.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who easily defeated little-known Republican Neel Kashkari, spent virtually nothing promoting himself. But he did make frequent appearances on TV in commercials on behalf of two ballot measures he backed, Propositions 1 and 2, which voters also passed by wide margins this week.

As of mid-October, Brown’s re-election campaign and his ballot measure committee spent a combined $14.5 million, with another $1.7 million in independent expenditures from outside groups.

The Brown-supported measures faced little organized opposition. Among Brown’s biggest supporters for the ballot measures were Napster founder Sean Parker, who gave $1 million, venture capitalist John Doerr, who gave $875,000, and his union allies that gave millions more.

Kashkari spent $2.6 million in the general election through mid-October, bringing total spending on the governor’s race and ballot initiatives to nearly $19 million.

In the nonpartisan race for superintendent of public instruction, spending exceeded $22 million, making it the most expensive election for a statewide office this year.

The California Teachers Association and its organized labor allies devoted more than $7.5 million in independent advertising to back union-friendly incumbent Tom Torlakson. The American Federation of Teachers, which usually leaves state races up to its affiliates, chipped in $550,000 to back Torlakson.

Meanwhile, deep-pocketed philanthropists and others made at least $10.7 million in independent expenditures on behalf of his rival, school reformer Marshall Tuck. They included the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other business and technology leaders.

The roughly even split on the amount of money spent was reflected in the final results: Torlakson won narrowly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

In general, the money follows the presumed favorite, but cash doesn’t always deliver.

A surprise this year came in a Central Valley congressional district where unofficial returns show Democratic Rep. Jim Costa trailing dairy farmer Johnny Tacherra by a thin margin. Costa outspent his opponent about 3-to-1, and party strategists never targeted the race as one expected to be competitive.

Perhaps the best example of the limitations of big spending is Meg Whitman, who burned up $178 million, most of it her own money, in a failed bid to become governor in 2010.

Even when fundraising succeeds, it’s not always decisive, especially if the other candidate is benefiting from an infusion of cash.

Outside groups poured more than $10 million into the suburban Sacramento congressional race between Democratic Rep. Ami Bera and Republican Doug Ose, a former congressman, making it one of the most expensive and competitive House contests in the nation. Ose was leading Bera on Thursday, but the race remained too close to call.