Among the very top contributors to the campaign, according to public filings, are A. Jerrold Perenchio ($250,000), Thomas Siebel ($500,000), B. Wayne Hughes ($200,000) and Charles Munger Jr. ($992,000).
Perenchio, a billionaire Hollywood mogul, was the second-largest individual political donor in California from 2001 to 2011, with $16.9 million in contributions mostly to Republican and conservative interests, according to a compilation by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. He's contributed $2 million to American Crossroads and $500,000 to Restore Our Future.
Siebel is a Silicon Valley billionaire perhaps best known in California political circles for his introduction of Sarah Palin, then the newly minted GOP vice presidential candidate, at a 2008 rally as "the embodiment of pure, unadulterated good," the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In 2010 he donated $250,000 to American Crossroads.
The Kentucky-based Hughes is the patriarch of the Public Storage empire. His donations to American Crossroads: $3.5 million, making him one of its top donors in 2010. He's given nearly $2.3 million to California political entities in the 2001-11 period, exclusively Republican.
Munger is a physicist who was the third-largest individual political contributor in California in 2001-11, with $14.1 million in contributions, mostly to GOP interests. His father, Charles Sr., has long been Warren Buffett's investment partner.
Whatever you might think about these individuals' political viewpoints, some things are crystal-clear: They're the special interests. They're the fount of the cash that, according to the Prop. 32 pitch, constitutes "the most corrupting influence in politics."
And most important of all: They're conveniently exempt from Proposition 32.
It doesn't matter that their wealth comes from corporations that would be barred from funneling money directly to candidates — Hughes from Public Storage, Siebel from Siebel Systems and Oracle, Perenchio from Univision. Their individual bank accounts remain unfettered.
If you've been wondering why people whose fortunes come from business would invest so much money to enact a measure that purports to limit the political influence of business, now you know.
Proposition 32 isn't designed to stop the flow of cash into California politics; it's designed to cede California politics totally to characters like this. Any of them could get anything he wants from Sacramento. Could you?
Another fact the Prop. 32 cabal doesn't want you to know is that donations to candidates and parties — the contributions most directly covered by the measure — constitute a tiny portion of corporate political spending in California. Power really resides in the initiative process, and that's where businesses put the big bucks.
Over the last two years, for example, the tobacco company Altria (formerly Philip Morris) has donated $33.5 million to California political campaigns. Less than $700,000 went to candidates or parties. Much of the spending went to defeat Proposition 29, this spring's tobacco tax initiative.
Then there's Pacific Gas & Electric Co. In 2009-10, PG&E spent $53.5 million on politics in California. Less than $600,000 went to candidates. Most of the rest financed the utility's majestically dishonest ballot initiative to kill public power programs.
Because under Proposition 32 such spending could be financed out of money that business and wealthy individuals — but not unions — can access, the measure would tilt the initiative playground even further in business' favor.
The treatment of unions and corporations as though they're equivalent political players is an ideological fantasy. Unions are organizations whose members have democratic rights to vote on their leaders and their policies, political or otherwise. (Nonmembers represented by unions in collective bargaining already have the right to withhold dues attributable to strictly political activities.) Corporation owners, or shareholders, don't have democratic rights unless they hold controlling stakes.
When a union engages in politics, you know it's generally reflecting the interest of its members. When a corporation does, whose interest is it reflecting? Could be a few dozen people, one huge shareholder, or a CEO and his cronies on the board.
Moreover, as the labor expert Joseph Rauh observed decades ago, giving a political voice to an increasingly disenfranchised working class is fundamental to the role of organized labor. The fate of bills "affecting working men and their unions," he wrote, "may be of as great importance to union members as the collective bargaining process itself."
The message the perpetrators of Proposition 32 are sending to you, the California voter, is that they think you're stupid. Really, really stupid.
When you go to the voting booth or fill out your mail ballot this November, stop for a moment and ponder this question: Should I hand over my vote to people who think of me that way?
Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.