Big donations helped defeat doctor-assisted suicide in Massachusetts

November 30, 2012

Backed by money from Catholic organizations and pro-life advocates, opponents spent $5 million to defeat a ballot question that sought to allow terminally-ill people to obtain a prescription to end their own lives.

Voters defeated the ballot question on Nov. 6 by 51 percent to 49 percent. The question, if approved, would have allowed people with no more than six months to live to self-administer a fatal dose of medication prescribed by a doctor.

Mark P. Horan, a spokesman for the The Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide, said the group was very committed to making sure the ballot question didn't pass because of its flaws. He said it was worthwhile to take whatever measures were necessary to defeat it. Opponents outspent supporters by a 5-1 margin.

"We're glad that in the end a majority of people came to the conclusion it was a flawed approach to end-of-life care generally," Horan said.

The most recent financial reports were filed Nov. 20 with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.

The Committee Against Physician-Assisted Suicide spent $4.27 million and another group, Massachusetts Against Doctor Prescribed Suicide, spent $707,000.

Contributions to the successful effort to defeat the ballot question included $1 million from the Boston Catholic Television Center; $20,000 from the Catholic Health Association in St. Louis; $56,000 from Heartbeat International in Columbus, Ohio; $450,000 from the Knights of Columbus in New Haven; Conn., $30,000 from Mass Citizens for Life in Ludlow and about $45,000 from the Mass Citizens for Life in Boston; $250,000 from the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston; $50,000 from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Fall River; $1 million from St. John's Seminary Corporation in Boston; $420,000 from The Catholic Association, Inc. in Washington; $50,000 from The Society of Jesus of New England in Watertown; and $475,000 from Sean Fieler, president of Equinox Partners in Princeton, N.J., who is also chairman of an anti-abortion group.

Stephen G. Crawford, a spokesman for Dignity 2012, said his side could have won at the ballot, but supporters were just outspent on television.

Supporters of the ballot question, including Dignity 2012 and MA Compassion & Choices Dignity 2012, spent $507,000 and $521,000 respectively, or about $1 million.

"To come as close as we did is encouraging for supporters of death with dignity in the future," Crawford said.

Donations included $200,000 from Compassion & Choices Action Network in Denver; $180,000 from Andrew Ross, a retired lawyer from Ohio who has donated to assisted suicide campaigns in other states; $85,000 from the Death with Dignity National Center in Portland, Oregon; $61,000 from Midge Levy, a retired social worker in Seattle; $30,000 from Eileen L. McDonagh, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston; and $10,000 from Ronald Shaich, the CEO of Panera Bread.

The spending was far below a record for a single ballot question committee, according to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. In 1998, a committee spent $8.2 million in support of a successful ballot question for a state law to deregulate the electric utility industry.

The groups that spent the most on two other statewide ballot questions also saw their positions prevail at the polls.

The Committee for Compassionate Medicine spent about $1.125 million in its effort to secure approval of Question 3, which legalizes medical marijuana as of Jan. 1. The law, which passed by 63 percent to 37 percent, awaits regulations that are set to be approved by the state Department of Public Health by the end of April.

Peter B. Lewis of Mayfield Village, Ohio, the non-executive chairman of insurance giant Progressive Corp. and a longtime backer of medical pot, contributed about $1.1 million, or the great majority of the money raised by the committee. In a last-minute contribution, Lewis gave $75,000 the day before the Nov. 6 election.

The Vote No on Question 3 Committee only spent $5,950 in the uphill battle to defeat medical marijuana.

Two organizations -- the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee and Vote Yes on Question 1 Repair .. Anywhere -- combined to spend about $2.1 million in a successful effort to pass Question 1, or the "right to repair" law. The right to repair committee spent the lion's share of the money.

The ballot question, approved by 86 percent to 14 percent, gives repair shops and individuals access to the same diagnostic and repair information available to car manufacturers and their dealers.

Donations in support included some from big auto-parts businesses including $150,000 apiece from Advance Auto Parts of Roanoke, Va., AutoZone of Memphis, Tenn., O'Reilly Auto Parts of Springfield, Mo., and Genuine Parts of Duluth, Ga. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association gave $810,000.

Opponents of Question 1 spent $208,000. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington contributed $200,000.