California's marijuana legalization campaign, which has struggled to raise money despite the intense nationwide focus on the issue, was jolted Tuesday when a multibillionaire investor with a long interest in loosening drug laws endorsed Proposition 19 and donated $1 million.
The contribution triples the amount of money that legalization advocates have to spend in the final week before the Nov. 2 election and dwarfs the $317,500 that the California Chamber of Commerce has spent on radio ads in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego against the initiative.
"Better late than never," said Dale Sky Jones, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 19 committee, saying the campaign still has time to reach undecided voters. "It will be a nail-biter to the end."
George Soros, the chairman of a hedge fund and a philanthropist, made the donation as polls showed support slipping and as the Yes on 19 campaign began to run its first ad on cable television, targeting voters in the Los Angeles area. On Wednesday, the campaign plans to roll out the ad featuring a former San Jose police chief in Chico, Fresno and Bakersfield.
Soros donated to a campaign committee run by the Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group that he also supports financially. Stephen Gutwillig, the organization's California director, said the money will help turn out supporters and air the television ad, but declined to be more specific. The alliance and Yes on 19 committee have about $1.5 million to spend.
The opposition committee has raised far less, relying heavily on law enforcement organizations. The campaign had $47,000 in mid-October and has since raised $93,000 in large donations. The campaign is running radio ads in Redding and Chico aimed at voters who have not seen extensive television coverage.
"We've been outspent on this campaign from Day 1, and the more they spend, it seems like the lower they go in the polls," said Roger Salazar, a No on 19 spokesman. The initiative, which had long been ahead in polls, has fallen behind in the latest surveys, though some put it at a statistical tie.
Both campaigns are highlighting support from law enforcement. The initiative has been endorsed by 28 law enforcement veterans in California, but the opposition touts the support of many California police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys and every state law enforcement organization that has taken a position.
The proponents held a teleconference Tuesday with four former police officers who said enforcing marijuana laws wastes time that officers could devote to serious crimes, and creates a black market that fuels drug gangs. The opposition campaign, which had no events Tuesday, has scheduled a news conference Wednesday with the San Diego County sheriff and district attorney.
The Drug Policy Alliance, which hopes to persuade black and Latino voters to back the initiative as a civil rights issue, will showcase a study Wednesday that found Latinos were arrested on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges more often than whites in 33 California cities between 2006 and 2008.
The alliance has also issued reports showing higher arrest rates for African Americans. The latest report found the disparity was highest in Pasadena, with Latinos arrested 2.9 times more than whites, followed by Santa Monica and Alhambra at 2.7 times. In Los Angeles, the rate is twice as high for Latinos.