TIME LIFE Photo Essay

Under a Mississippi Sun: Portraits of Depression-Era Sharecroppers

Alfred Eisenstaedt's remarkable photos of sharecroppers working their plots of soil on the Delta & Pine Land Co. plantation in Scott, Miss., in the midst of the Great Depression.

In September 1936, two months before the debut issue of LIFE magazine hit newsstands, Henry Luce and his colleagues at Time Inc. produced an 80-page “dummy” issue of the as-yet-unnamed publication. Designed and produced, in large part, to spark interest among potential advertisers, the issue was the same sort of large-format, photo-driven entity that would soon become familiar to millions of readers around the world as a weekly called LIFE.

The dummy also featured the same combination of international news, celebrity coverage, science and tech reporting and downright goofy articles (one on playing golf in a massive rainstorm stands out) that LIFE would perfect in the coming decades. And, like countless issues of the magazine down through the years, the dummy included photographs by the one and only Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Eisenstaedt pictures (some of which made their way into another Time Inc. title, Fortune magazine, in 1937) chronicle the lives—at work, at worship, at rest, at play—of sharecroppers on “the world’s largest staple cotton plantation,” near Greenville, Mississippi.

Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1936 on location in Mississippi for LIFE Magazine

Seen all these years later, what’s perhaps most astonishing about the photos, aside from their near-uniform excellence, is how companionable, and how intimate, they feel.

Made by a man born in what is now northern Poland; a World War I veteran who served in the German Army; a dapper figure who began his career as a photographer amid the heady cultural ferment of Weimar Germany and emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1930s to escape growing Nazi oppression, Eisenstaedt’s pictures of poor, Mississippi cotton workers suggest that this worldly European Jew was able—as he was throughout his career, with virtually everyone he photographed—to make the subjects of his pictures perfectly comfortable.

Whether he was making portraits of legendary actresses, powerful politicians, famous scientists, superstar athletes or the average man, woman or child on the street, Alfred Eisenstaedt had the enviable gift of putting people at ease. (One notable exception: A booze-soaked Ernest Hemingway, who “almost killed” Eisenstaedt in Cuba in 1952.)

Here, LIFE.com presents a number of Eisenstaedt’s photos of 48-year-old sharecropper Lonnie Fair and his family, friends and neighbors, working their plots of soil on the Delta & Pine Land Co. plantation in Scott, Miss., in the midst of the Great Depression. (“Lonnie Fair,” Fortune reported in its March 1937 issue, “is a paragon of good fortune, as U.S. sharecroppers go. Last year he got $1,001.10 from D.P.L.: credit–$482.76, cash–$518.34.”)

There is poverty in these pictures, and, to a degree that might be shocking to those unfamiliar with the post-Civil War plantation business, there is exploitation, as well. No photojournalist worth his or her salt—least of all Alfred Eisenstaedt—would romanticize or otherwise trivialize the harshness of a sharecropper’s life.

But through Eisenstaedt’s lens, and through the man’s capacity for seeing things both clearly, and empathetically, the far deeper reaction most of us will experience after spending time with his photos is a probably one part wonderment, and three parts gratitude.

After all, would could fail to be thankful that a photographer of Eisenstaedt’s talent and compassion was dispatched to chronicle—and, in a real sense, to immortalize—this era, and these lives?


Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME Crime

What the Ferguson Leaks Tell Us About Michael Brown’s Death

Police face off with demonstrators outside the police station as protests continue in the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown's death on Oct. 22, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police face off with demonstrators outside the police station as protests continue in the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown's death on Oct. 22, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

A guide to the latest news from the Ferguson case and grand jury investigation

As a St. Louis County grand jury weighs whether to indict Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, a series of leaks have provided new information about the skirmish that led to Brown’s death and ignited a national debate about race and police violence. A lot has happened since Brown died after a confrontation with Wilson on Aug. 9. Here’s a guide to making sense of it:

What’s new?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained Brown’s official autopsy report on Oct. 22, which indicates he was shot near the right thumb at very close range. Medical experts interviewed by the paper said the findings may support Wilson’s contention that Brown was reaching for the officer’s gun inside the police SUV where their original struggle occurred. A separate autopsy conducted for Brown’s family by Dr. Michael Baden, a well-known forensic pathologist, concluded that none of the teen’s wounds indicated he was shot at such close range.

Wilson told investigators that Brown punched him in the face through the open window of the vehicle, according to the Post-Dispatch. In Wilson’s version of events, the punch prompted him to draw his gun and Brown grabbed for it. As they struggled over the weapon, Brown was shot in the hand. According to Wilson, Brown then ran away from the vehicle, so the officer jumped out to give chase. Wilson reportedly told investigators that Brown defied the officer’s command to stop, then turned and ran at him, at which point Wilson fired the fatal shots.

According to the Washington Post, “a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses” have provided testimony to the grand jury that supports Wilson’s version of events. Brown’s blood was found on the gun, on Wilson’s uniform and spattered on an inside door panel of the car, according to the New York Times. Other witnesses have provided divergent accounts of the incident, alleging that Brown was shot with his hands in the air or while fleeing. Protesters pictured with their hands-up became one of the iconic images of the unrest that wracked Ferguson in the weeks after Brown’s death.

What’s not?

In many ways, the leaks amplify what we already knew. From the beginning, the Ferguson police department has said publicly that Wilson shot Brown after the teen instigated a struggle in the SUV that made the officer fear for his safety. Independent witnesses have said there was a scuffle, though they differ on whether it happened in or near Wilson’s vehicle. Apart from detailed forensic information about Brown’s wounds, the autopsy includes a toxicology report indicating the presence of marijuana in Brown’s system. Previously released surveillance video shows Brown stealing a pack of Swisher Sweets, cheap cigars that are commonly used to roll blunts, from a convenience store shortly before the altercation with Wilson. But that incident had nothing to do with the confrontation, which occurred after Wilson ordered Brown and a friend to move onto the sidewalk as they walked down the middle of a street.

How important is this information?

The details of the struggle in the SUV matter. In Missouri, as elsewhere, a police officer has wide latitude to use deadly force if he has justifiable reason to feel his life is in danger. If forensic information and witness testimony support Wilson’s account that Brown grabbed for his gun, the grand jury—or, in the event of an indictment, a trial jury—would ostensibly be more likely to determine that the use of force was justified.

What don’t the leaks tell us?

They don’t explain the origin of the skirmish, which seems to have escalated abruptly. In describing the toxicology report, the Post’s sources say “the levels in Brown’s body may have been high enough to trigger hallucinations,” but there is no scientific link between marijuana and violent behavior.

Most importantly, the leaks do not provide new forensic information about the sequence of fatal shots. “What we want to know is why Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown multiple times and killed him even though he was more than 20 feet away from his patrol car,” Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said in a statement. “This is the crux of the matter!” The autopsy does not offer any answers.

What’s going on with the grand jury?

Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, has said that he expects the deliberations to wrap up this month or next. The grand jury process has been unusual in a number of ways, as TIME reported last month.

Prosecutors declined to recommend a specific charge for Wilson, which is rare. Instead, they are presenting evidence as it becomes available, and allowing the grand jury members to determine whether it warrants charges of murder or manslaughter. (There are two options for each charge: first- or second-degree murder; and voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.)

All testimony in the case is being transcribed, which is unusual because it exposes witnesses to future legal proceedings. McCulloch has delegated the task of presenting evidence to two attorneys in his office in an attempt to neutralize allegations that he lacks objectivity. (McCulloch’s father, a police officer, died in the line of duty, and African Americans have criticized his handling of past police shootings.) In another rare move, McCulloch has pledged to immediately release transcripts of the proceedings. According to the prosecutor’s office, these decisions were made in the interest of transparency, though it may also be an attempt to head off criticism in the event that the grand jury declines to indict Wilson.

Is there a motive for the leaks?

It’s a criminal act to leak information about grand jury proceedings, so the number of leaks the investigation has sprung in recent days is conspicuous. The Department of Justice, which is conducting its own inquiry into the shooting, has condemned the trickle of information.“There seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case,” it said on Oct. 22.

The leaks have also raised questions about whether sources connected to the investigation are spreading this information to prepare the community for the possibility that the grand jury declines to indict. The information that has leaked suggests the likelihood of that may be greater than protesters realize.

How is Ferguson reacting?

The daily demonstrations are ongoing. Protests tapered off in the weeks after Brown’s death, but the Oct. 8 killing of Vonderrit Myers, a black 18-year-old shot by an off-duty St. Louis police officer, rekindled the community’s fury. (Cops say Myers fired at the officer first; forensic evidence released by the police department, including lab results that reportedly show gunpowder residue on Myers’ hand and in the waistband of his jeans, appear to corroborate that version of events. Myers’ family says they believe he was unarmed.)

Thousands of people massed in St. Louis in mid-October for coordinated protests following Myers’ death. There were some arrests and sporadic clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement, but nothing on the scale of the August riots. But it was enough to upset the fragile peace that had set in during September and on Oct. 21, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced the formation of a commission to address issues like race relations.

The recent autopsy and other leaks have fanned the flames in Ferguson. That anger is likely a mere preview of how the community will react if Wilson is cleared. “If there is no indictment,” said one protester, “all hell is going to break loose.”

Read next: Mourning Ferguson

TIME Outer Space

Look Up: There’s a Rare Partial Solar Eclipse Thursday

Sudan Solar Eclipse
Anadolu Agency—Getty Images A partial solar eclipse is seen over the Sudanese capital Khartoum on November 3, 2013.

Here's when to look up at the sky

As long as rainclouds aren’t obstructing the view, people across the United States will be able to look up Thursday afternoon to witness the moon cover part of the sun in a rare partial solar eclipse.

According to Weather.com, nearly all of North America, barring part of Canada and New England, will be able to see the display. Sky and Telescope has a list of when the eclipse will be visible in different major cities. The partial solar eclipse will be viewable in New York beginning at 5:49 p.m. and peaking at 6:03, though skywatchers on the west coast will get the best show — the eclipse begins in Los Angeles at 2:08 p.m. and hit its peak midway point at 3:28 p.m. local time.

Here’s a map that tracks eclipse visibility:

While there will be another partial solar eclipse Aug. 21, 2017, Business Insider reports there won’t be another that is visible to the entire country until 2023. So maybe step outside — but take precautions.

“Looking directly at the Sun is harmful to your eyes at any time, partial eclipse or no,” says Sky and Telescope’s Alan MacRobert. “The only reason a partial eclipse is dangerous is that it prompts people to gaze at the Sun, something they wouldn’t normally do. The result can be temporary or permanent blurred vision or blind spots at the center of your view.”

[Sky and Telescope]

TIME Secret Service

White House Fence Jumper Charged With Felonies After Kicking Dog

K-9s Hurricane and Jordan were cleared to return to duty after suffering minor bruising.

A man who climbed over the White House fence Wednesday evening was immediately apprehended and charged on multiple felony counts, including charges for assaulting police dogs, the Secret Service said Thursday.

The man, identified as 23-year-old Dominic Adesanya of Maryland, was unarmed. He is charged with two counts of assaulting a police dog and one count of making threats, as well as with four misdemeanor charges for resisting/unlawful entry.

According to the Secret Service, a veterinarian treated two of the agency’s dogs–Hurricane and Jordan–for minor bruising before clearing them for duty.

“Dogs got him,” Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said Wednesday, according to Reuters. The White House was put under lockdown for roughly 90 minutes as a result of the incident, which took place just hours after a gunman shot and killed a Canadian soldier on guard outside Ottawa’s Parliament Hill.

The incident also comes a month after a man jumped the White House fence and got deep inside the building before finally being apprehended in what’s become an embarrassing breach for the Secret Service.

TIME Education

In The Latest Issue

Teacher Tenure Time Magazine Cover
Photograph by Kenji Aoki for Time

The War on Teacher Tenure
It’s really difficult to fire a bad teacher. A group of Silicon Valley investors wants to change that

Which Republican Party?
Even if it captures the Congress, rivalries could hamper the GOP in power

12 Answers To Ebola’s Hard Questions
From hospital safety to travel bans, the facts you need to know

Why Kobani Matters
A border town in Syria becomes ground zero in the U.S. air war against ISIS

Harvard in Hot Water Over Sexual-Assault Policy
Critics say new procedures overcorrect for the problem of rape on campus

Kansas City Baseball Goes Back to the Future
The surprise World Series trip shows how the game is changing

The Apple Pay Effect
McDonald’s, Walgreens, Bloomingdales and more are backing mobile payment

The Culture

Pop Chart

Fear Loves Company: Don’t Watch These New Horror Movies Alone
Annabelle, Ouija and more to catch this Halloween season

Paradigm Swift
On her new album, Taylor Swift goes full-throttle pop

The Queen Is Dead in King Charles III
A new West End play makes a bold move

Matisse’s Great Paper Chase
At MoMA, a dazzling display of the ‘cut-outs’

Whassup, Brainiac?
After a dorky night out in L.A. with Weezer’s front man, I felt free to embrace my inner nerd

10 Questions With Mick Fleetwood
The drumming icon talks about Fleetwood Mac’s reunion, his new memoir and the need to be hot

Honor Thy Teacher

Campaign Inflation
The cost of campaigns has been growing at a staggering clip

World
Setback for Abe as Two Women Resign From Japan’s Cabinet

Briefing

Ben Bradlee’s Electric Glow
A former Washington Post reporter remembers a legendary newspaperman who lived off gossip, palled around with the Kennedys and was the most celebrated editor of his time

TIME ebola

Connecticut Quarantines 9 People for Possible Ebola Exposure

None of them are showing symptoms of illness, but are being monitored as a precautionary measure

Nine people in Connecticut who could have been exposed to Ebola have been ordered to stay home for 21 days, the state’s Public Health Department said on Wednesday.

The people being watched by state health authorities are not showing symptoms of illness, but are being monitored as a precautionary measure, the Connecticut Mirror reports.

The quarantined people include three Yale University students, and all the others are from one family, the New York Times says. The people also include recent visitors to West Africa.

The home quarantines are the first use of the state’s toughened measures to keep Ebola at bay, after Governor Dannel Malloy declared a public-health emergency in the state and reserved the right to impose 21-day quarantines with twice daily temperature checks on at-risk individuals.

U.S. political and health officials are seeking to contain Ebola through state-ordered quarantines, after two Dallas nurses who treated an Ebola patient contracted the disease and illustrated its potential to leapfrog through the U.S., if not controlled. A quarantine in Texas for dozens of people possibly exposed to Ebola ended this week with all declared virus-free.

Federal health officials also said Wednesday that travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, who arrive in the U.S. through six states, will, as of next week, be ordered to communicate daily with health authorities for 21 days about their condition.

[The Connecticut Mirror]

Read next: How Ebola Hysteria Could Help Contain Flu Season

TIME

Honor Thy Teacher

Mrs. Flanagan. Miss Raymond. Mr. Schwartz. Those are mine, but if you’re lucky you have them too, the teachers who seeded our imaginations and shaped our characters. Years later, nothing makes me more grateful as a parent than my daughters’ encounters with classroom wizards.

Teachers matter: one Texas study found that cutting class size by 10 students was not as beneficial as even modest improvement in the teacher. A McKinsey survey of the world’s best schools–in Finland, South Korea, Singapore–found that they consistently draw 100% of their teachers from the top third of graduates; in the U.S., almost half come from the bottom third. That may explain why our kids’ performance falls below that of students in Estonia and why one-third of those who make it to college in the U.S. need remedial education.

In her cover story, Haley Sweetland Edwards tracks a crusade led by some deep-pocketed education reformers. Rather than working incrementally through traditional channels, they have gone to court: Is a bad teacher a violation of a student’s civil rights? And if so, are tenure rules that keep bad teachers in classrooms unconstitutional?

Edwards was struck in her reporting by the messiness of education politics. “In most cases, if you know that someone is a Democrat or a Republican, you pretty much know how they stand on a given policy question,” she observes. “In education, all bets are off. That’s compounded by the strange politics of Silicon Valley, where liberal libertarianism is in the drinking water.” Edwards joined TIME last spring in our Washington bureau, and this is her first cover story. As the daughter of a former California public-school teacher and the wife of a Washington, D.C., charter-school teacher, she has now ensured that Thanksgiving dinner will be especially lively this year.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR

TIME VIDEO

As TIME’s White House photographer for 20 years, Diana Walker covered Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton. But the range of formal and behind-the-scenes images of Hillary Clinton (shown here before a 2008 Late Show appearance) that fill her new 212-page book, Hillary, have won her some of the widest acclaim. In a new TIME video, Walker talks about a few of her favorite images, including one of a beaming First Lady, with her husband at a Philadelphia event, wearing a baseball cap. “The baseball cap is usually saved for the President,” she says. Watch the video at time.com/walker.

NOW ON TIME.COM

Searching for the bottom line on dubious foods can drive you bananas. In “Should I Eat This?”–a new feature that polls five experts on a different food each week–TIME synthesizes the best available information to answer your gnawing questions. Here, a preview of the full series, available at time.com/eat

EGGS

The great breakfast conundrum was a hit with 4 out of 5 experts, who love eggs for their vitamins, luscious neon yolks and even their healthy effect on cholesterol.

CHEESE

Experts go weak in the knees for cheese. All waxed on about the taste–“Pleasure is good for health,” said one–but cheese has real perks too, like calcium and beneficial bacteria.

SHRIMP

America’s most popular seafood is served with a big side of ecological baggage, but do health benefits outweigh risks? Stay tuned to find out whether or not shrimp is on the hook.


This appears in the November 03, 2014 issue of TIME.
TIME 2014 Election

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

YouTube A still from an advertisement payed for by Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences

Spending on TV ads soars to $119 million ahead of Election Day

Correction appended: October 26, 2014

Bonnie Marsh is worried that many of her neighbors’ health problems stem from big companies farming genetically modified crops around her in Maui County, Hawaii. So she helped collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would ban growing such crops until an environmental study is done.

“We’ve come forward because we feel there’s a real threat to the health of the Earth,” said Marsh, a nurse who focuses on natural remedies. “We are done being an experimental lab.”

Marsh said her group, Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, has raised about $76,000 so far for what is the first-ever citizen-initiated ballot measure in Maui County. They’ve used about $17,000 of it to buy TV ads to help get the word out. But Marsh’s group is being outraised and outspent by business-supported opposition.

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, has already spent more than $2 million — or $23.13 per registered voter in the county — on television ads arguing that the ban would kill jobs, cost the local economy millions of dollars and block crops that have been proven safe.

And more ads could be on the way — the group has not yet filed a report with the state to say how much it has raised, nor would it volunteer the information to the Center for Public Integrity.

More has been spent on television time on that measure than any other local initiative in the nation. It’s also more expensive than more than 100 statewide measures, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.

Across the country, large companies and national advocacy groups are putting big dollars behind committees with benign-sounding names that support or oppose ballot initiatives on issues as varied as minimum wage increases in Alaska and recreational marijuana in Florida.

The committees are using that money to put their message out in expensive ads featuring family farmers, concerned doctors and smiling teachers. Voters may not readily be able to identify the patrons behind the millions of dollars in ads, but a who’s who of corporate America — soda king Coca-Cola, agriculture magnate Monsanto and malpractice insurer The Doctors Company — are among them.

Through Oct. 20, TV ad spending on ballot issues totaled roughly $119 million, including $11.3 million on local initiatives such as the one in Maui County.

Four of the five most expensive ballot initiatives feature at least one corporate patron duking it out over the airwaves, getting involved in the initiative process that was designed as a way to give voters a direct voice on public policies.

· The two most expensive propositions were in California. Proposition 46 has drawn more than $23 million in ad spending, while Proposition 45 has attracted $20.5 million. Almost all of it has come from two groups: No on 45 — Californians Against Higher Healthcare Costs and No on 46 — Patients, Providers and Healthcare Insurers to Contain Health Costs. The “no” groups are backed by doctors and insurance companies, including The Doctors Company and Blue Shield of California, fighting to stop measures that would force doctors to undergo drug testing and insurers to get new approval for rate hikes, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state campaign finance records.

· Coming in third place was a Colorado amendment to expand gambling, which has drawn about $12 million in ad spending. Of that, $6.4 million came from Coloradans for Better Schools, a group backed by a Rhode Island casino company, Twin River Casino. Competing casinos in Colorado are helping fund $5.7 million in ads opposing the measure through a group called Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos.

· Ranking fourth were two California measures that have been touted as an inseparable duo: Proposition 1, which would authorize a bond issue for water infrastructure projects, and Proposition 2, which would change the state’s “rainy day fund.” Most of the $7.6 million spent on ads supporting the two measures came from California Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democrat has not run any ads for his re-election bid, instead buying $5.6 million in ads through his campaign committee to back the propositions.

· Rounding out the top five, with $5 million in ads, was an Oregon measure that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled. The No on 92 Coalition, fueled by groups such as Monsanto and the J.M. Smucker Company, is battling natural food companies funding the Vote Yes on Measure 92 committee.

Fewer but costlier initiatives

This year voters have fewer ballot measures to decide than they did four years ago, when a comparable number of offices were up for election. In 2010, voters considered 184 statewide initiatives compared with 158 this year.

Even California voters, well acquainted with lengthy ballots, have only six measures to read through this November.

But this year already has 2010 beat in terms of TV ad spending. In 2010, ballot measure backers and opponents spent about $87 million on ads for the entire election cycle, compared with this year’s $119 million through Oct. 20.

Citizens in 26 states can gather signatures and put a proposal on the ballot that would create a new law or veto an existing one. Every state but Delaware offers voters the chance to weigh in on constitutional amendments approved by the legislature. Once the initiative is approved to go before voters, the ad deluge begins.

Ballot measure opponents and supporters use a number of tools to influence voters — door-knocking, direct mail, digital advertising and more — but television spots have the highest profile influence on such direct democracy.

“TV ads are a very effective way of getting out a message,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida professor who has studied ballot measures for more than 20 years. Advertising can be used “devastatingly well,” he added.

But those ads — and the money behind them — aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it gets people talking, he said, even if a few of them are confusing or misleading. “Increased money usually means there is more information, more awareness of ballot measures,” he added.

Corporate titans rule the airwaves

In California, competing messages about the drug-testing-for-doctors proposition are abundant on the airwaves. Recent transplant James VanBuskirk, a 34-year-old marketer for a property insurance company, says he sees one every time he watches prime-time TV.

Prop 46 tops the ballot measure spending pile in this election, with $23 million spent on thousands of ads across California.

Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Trial lawyers stand to benefit from Prop 46 because, in addition to testing doctors for drug use, it also increases the maximum judges can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. Groups backed by them spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.

Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have also thrown their money behind Proposition 45, which would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the California insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. Ballot committees supporting the measure have aired more than $679,000 on ads so far.

But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending big to oppose both measures on the airwaves — with more than $38 million spent on ads so far, about $19 million on each measure — nearly a third of the total amount spent on ballot measure ads nationwide. And there are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.

“It’s definitely in the upper stratosphere of California fundraising,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that produces online voter guides.

That doesn’t mean the insurance companies are necessarily going to win. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime.

Casinos versus casinos

In Colorado, casinos are waging the nation’s third-most-expensive ballot fight over the airwaves this year.

It’s casino versus casinos, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data. One Rhode Island gambling company, Twin River Casino, wants to offer slot machines, blackjack and other games at a racetrack in Aurora, Colorado. In ads, the committee backed by the company promises $100 million of new gambling revenue will be sent to an education fund every year. The ads have run more than 5,500 times, at a cost of about $6.4 million.

But already established gambling operations in Colorado that don’t want more competition have backed a group that has kept pace, spending $5.7 million on ads opposing the measure. “Amendment 68 is not about education. It’s a Rhode Island gambling scheme,” one opposition ad says.

Most Coloradans likely have no idea that casinos are backing the ads on both sides, said Kyle Saunders, associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. Colorado has clear-cut competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, he said, while ballot-measure backers are “muddying the issues.”

“It’s a difficult environment for voters to know everything about a particular ballot measure anyway, in a normal election,” Saunders said. “You have to actually do some digging or find that article on the Internet or newspaper that has that in-depth information, and that’s actually a pretty demanding task for low- and medium-information voters.”

Gambling is also on the ballot in Massachusetts, with a casino-backed group spending about $3.3 million on ads.

In total, gambling-based ballot measures are responsible for $17.5 million in ad spending nationwide.

Food industry food fight

Even soda is getting in on the political ad contests. The American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has pumped millions into a group opposing a Massachusetts ballot measure that would raise fees for beverage distributors and expand the state’s bottle deposit to cover more types of bottles. The beverage lobby-backed group has spent about $2.5 million on TV ads, while pro-initiative forces have not bought any airtime.

The California branch of the beverage-makers group has also backed a group trying to defeat a local initiative in San Francisco that would tax sugary drinks; so far the group has spent $1.8 million on ads, making the measure the second-most expensive local measure in terms of television spots, behind Maui’s initiative.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are also teaming up with other big food businesses like Monsanto and the Hershey Company in their effort to keep Oregon and Colorado from requiring labels on food that contains genetically modified organisms. Groups backed by the team of food companies have spent about $3 million on ads in each state, arguing that the measures would raise food prices and hurt farmers.

“Farming is hard enough. The last thing we need is Measure 92, a bunch of complex, costly regulations that don’t exist in any other state,” says a plaid-shirt-wearing farmer in an ad opposing the Oregon measure.

Proponents of labeling in Oregon, backed by natural food companies, have spent $2 million on television ads in the state. “I want you to be able to trust the food you feed your family,” says another plaid-shirt-wearing farmer, who favors the measure. Proponents in Colorado have not aired ads.

Winning hearts

Corporations aren’t the only big players in state ballot measures this year. National advocacy groups are also tugging at heartstrings on the airwaves.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have teamed up to oppose anti-abortion measures in Tennessee and Colorado. In Tennessee, a group backed by the pair has spent about $1.3 million on TV ads against a measure that would give the legislature more leeway to regulate abortion. Proponents of the measure, backed by Tennessee Right to Life, have spent about $606,000 on ads.

In Colorado, a Planned Parenthood-backed group has spent $477,000 on the airwaves to oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would redefine “person” to include the unborn. The ads say the move would effectively ban all abortion in the state. Proponents have aired no ads.

Other initiatives attracting interest from advocacy groups include:

· In Washington, television viewers have already been treated to more than 4,000 ads about a pair of conflicting ballot measures concerning background checks for gun purchases, with most of them coming from a group supporting expanded background checks. That organization — backed by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety fund, early Amazon investor Nick Hanauer and a handful of Microsoft executives, according to state records — spent an estimated $3 million on ads. The other side, backed by gun enthusiasts and sporting clubs, is trailing behind, with only about $58,000 spent.

· In North Dakota, the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, among others, have lent their support to a measure that would dedicate some of the state’s oil tax revenues to land preservation. North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has ponied up nearly $485,400 for ads—more than double the cost for all the ads run by candidates for state offices this year. The group’s opponents have spent about $134,000 on ads so far.

· In Maine, voters are considering a ballot measure that would ban traps, bait and dog chases in bear hunting. The Humane Society has backed a group that has spent about $860,000 on ads favoring the ban so far. The other side, Maine’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, has spent about $713,000 on ads.

Attracting voters with pot and money

Marijuana is on the ballot in the District of Columbia and three states, spurring $4.5 million in ads. In Oregon, voters have watched some 1,825 ads worth more than $1 million run by supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana. That effort’s backers include the family of Peter Lewis, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate from Ohio and chairman of Progressive Insurance, who died in 2013. Another backer is the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug-war nonprofit backed by liberal financier George Soros. (Soros’ Open Society Foundations are a financial supporter of the Center.)

The ads argue that legalizing the drug will allow police to focus on solving murders and finding missing children. Opponents have aired no ads so far, but a similar measure failed in Oregon in 2012. In Alaska, supporters of marijuana have aired just $8,210 worth of ads.

In Florida, opponents of a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana have spent roughly $3.2 million on ads. But the players in that fight might care less about marijuana than the governor’s race. Analysts say the marijuana legalization effort in Florida is really a tactic to get more young and left-leaning residents to turn out and vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson has given $4 million to the anti-pot campaign, while the pro-pot side is backed more than $3.8 million from the personal injury lawyer John Morgan and his firm, which hired Crist after he left office. So far, however, the marijuana advocates have only spent about $195,000 on TV ads, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data.

Ballot measures are a reliable way to motivate a party’s base. For instance, liberal groups helped get measures to raise the minimum wage on five states’ ballots this fall. Yet only Nebraska’s appears to have drawn TV ads: a paltry $79,000 worth.

“That totally makes sense,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for progressive groups and the communications director at the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America. “I wouldn’t count the lack of spending on ads to be indicative that they’re not incredibly useful in driving out votes.”

Sroka told the Associated Press that polls show overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, including among independents and Republicans. Liberal activists looking to motivate voters can use the minimum-wage measures as a way to get perhaps reluctant voters talking and then tell them that the Democratic nominees for office also support higher wages.

“These ballot measures are great ways to talk to voters who might not want to talk to Democrats,” Sroka said.

Money talks but does it win?

For some corporations and national advocacy groups, investments in ballot measure ads have already paid off. This summer, oil companies won an August vote after dishing out nearly $900,000 to buy about 8,000 TV spots in Alaska to keep special tax breaks. “We need to stay in the game,” said a hockey coach in an ad that likened the sport to the oil industry.

In Michigan, manufacturers almost hit the $2.8 million mark on ad spending for an August ballot measure designed to eliminate a double tax on industrial property, while also rerouting an existing tax to fund local budgets. Though observers worried the measure was too confusing for pessimistic Michigan voters, who turned down every single initiative on the ballot in 2012, the manufacturers walked away with a victory.

But for others, ad spending was for naught. In Missouri, construction companies spent about $1.2 million on TV ads but still lost an August vote that would have authorized a sales tax to fund road construction.

The bulk of the measures, though, will come before voters on Nov. 4, so a flood of advertising is on the horizon. Then the implications of voters’ decisions will begin, affecting individuals’ lives and companies’ bottom lines.

In Hawaii, approval of the Maui County GMO ban would be a blow to Monsanto, which can produce up to four crops of corn seeds a year in Hawaii’s lush environment.

The state’s seed industry, including Monsanto’s corn, has grown rapidly in recent years, and last growing season was worth $217 million, outpacing sugar cane and pineapples. The corporate-backed Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban argues that small farms and big alike would be hurt by the ballot’s ban.

“More than 600 people would lose their jobs,” the group’s spokesman, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, said in an email. “The purpose of the TV ads is to educate voters about the flawed, costly and harmful initiative.”

Natural remedies nurse Marsh doesn’t know whether her side can beat the Monsanto-backed ads; she said fliers against the GMO ban show up in her mailbox every day. But the ban advocates have a great volunteer network, she said, and at the very least they’ll get to make themselves heard. “We’re just trying to make them be held responsible for what they’re doing,” she said.

Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott contributed.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the amount Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina has raised to back the ballot measure banning GMO farming. It was about $76,000.

TIME ebola

Here’s What Would Happen if Ebola Was Stolen From a Lab

Biohazard sticker on laboratory window
Adam Gault—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

The virus is considered a bioterrorism agent. But massive fines, jail time and a risk of deadly exposure may be enough of a deterrent

Scientists routinely study deadly pathogens like Ebola in order to find ways to fight them and discover potential cures. But what would happen if a sample of Ebola was taken from a lab illegally?

Under federal regulations, Ebola is considered a “select agent and toxin” that has the “potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety,” and it’s illegal to possess, use or transfer a deadly pathogen to another individual without a certificate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says John Kraemer, an expert on infectious diseases and the law at Georgetown University’s Department of Health Systems Administration. Obtaining that certificate requires meeting a set of biosafety and biosecurity requirements. And the penalties for failing to do so can be steep.

The government has levied fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars to laboratories that have violated the select agent regulations. In 2008, HHS docked Texas A&M University $1 million for safety violations at its biodefense lab. Individuals who steal a disease sample could face similarly steep fines and time behind bars. Under federal law, HHS can fine a person up to $250,000 for each violation and can recommend imprisonment of up to five years.

But there is an additional layer of sensitivity to handling Ebola. The CDC considers viral hemorrhagic fevers, which includes Ebola, a Category A bioterrorism agent. And since 2001, several bioterrorism laws have strengthened criminal penalties against those who attempt to commandeer them. The Patriot Act in 2001 created a provision banning the transfer of a select agent like Ebola, and the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 gave more authority to the HHS to regulate those agents and diseases.

In September, the Obama administration issued new regulations for federally funded labs that work with contagious diseases like Ebola. Some researchers have criticized the guidelines as not being strong enough over fears that the pathogens, which are often made stronger in a lab, could potentially be used as bioweapons.

Kraemer says two scenarios could likely play out if Ebola samples fell into the wrong hands. If a researcher acquired Ebola for misguided research, for example, then they would likely get fined by HHS and could be sentenced to five years in prison.

“If however someone broke into a hospital to steal Ebola for some other reason, it’d be at least 10 years,” Kraemer says. “If someone acquires Ebola with an intent to weaponize it, then they can get life in prison. And, of course, if you actually use Ebola as a weapon, you can be prosecuted under federal anti-terrorism laws, with penalties up to the death penalty.”

Given the security required at labs authorized to handle potential biological weapons, as well as the risk that someone stealing a pathogen may also become infected by it, those latter scenarios are highly unlikely.

“Stealing an Ebola sample would be extremely dangerous because the thief would face a significant risk of exposure,” says Robert Field, a professor of law at Drexel University. “Other pathogens would be safer to steal because protection is easier.”

Like, for instance, anthrax.

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