Frenzied Sending on State Initiatives

By Lance Williams, California Watch Molly Munger donated $44.1 million to pass Proposition 38, a measure to raise taxes for public education. The initiative failed. Multimillionaire activists, big labor unions and major corporations combined to pump more than $363 million into political fights over 11 propositions on Tuesday’s state ballot, a California Watch analysis shows. That’s about $20 in political spending for each of California’s 18.2 million registered voters. By law, state ballot initiatives are exempt from the tough donation limits that otherwise apply in California elections. In contests over proposed tax increases, car insurance rates, criminal justice reforms and political spending by labor unions, donors with deep pockets took full advantage. Forty-seven donors – individuals, companies and political committees – donated more than $1 million apiece on initiative campaigns, a review of campaign finance data provided by shows. Seven donors each gave $11 million or more. The unprecedented spending spree was a sign of just how far the 101-year-old California initiative process has strayed from its origins. In the beginning, initiatives were a Progressive-era reform devised to allow ordinary citizens to sidestep a legislative process controlled by monied special interests. This year, combined spending over the two most hotly contested ballot measures – Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30, which sought a tax increase to fund public education, and Proposition 32, a conservative attempt to bar unions from making political donations – topped $195 million, with special interest donors paying much of the freight. Some of the big winners were: Labor: The state’s unions went all in for their successful effort to stop Prop. 32, the anti-union measure pushed by the Lincoln Club of Orange County and other conservative groups. Unions spent more than $60 million to block it. Much of the union money went to committees also pushing Prop. 30, the successful Brown tax measure. In addition to the California Teachers Association ($32.5 million), big donations came from the Service Employees International Union ($21.6 million) and the California Labor Federation ($6 million). Agroscience: Proposition 37 would have required special labels on genetically engineered food. The unsuccessful measure, pushed by the organic food industry, drew multimillion-dollar opposition from Monsanto Co. ($8.1 million) and DuPont ($5.4 million), in addition to Bayer CropScience, BASF Plant Science and Dow AgroSciences ($2 million apiece). The police lobby: The Peace Officers Research Association of California was on the winning side of four measures Tuesday and had only one loss. The association spent $192,000 to oppose the repeal of the death penalty, Proposition 34. Proponents countered with about $8 million, but the measure failed. The group also put $1.5 million into opposing the anti-union Prop. 32, which lost; more than $150,000 to back Prop. 35, the human trafficking measure, which won; and $150,000 to support Prop. 30, Brown’s successful tax measure. The cops’ only bad bet: $100,000 to oppose Proposition 36, the measure to reform California’s three strikes law, which was enacted.
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