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The few wealthy individuals who bankroll most California propositions

November 02, 2012|By Jon Healey
  • Physicist and GOP activist Charles T. Munger Jr., seen in 2008, has spent $36 million on behalf of Proposition 32. That's about $1 million more than he's spent opposing Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax hike.
Physicist and GOP activist Charles T. Munger Jr., seen in 2008, has spent… (Brian Baer / Sacramento…)

California voters have not been kind to wealthy people who spend millions of dollars trying to pass a ballot initiative. For every Rob Reiner and Stephen Bing, who combined their ample wallets to push through a cigarette tax in 1998, there are multiple more like T. Boone Pickens, whose natural-gas company spent millions in vain on an initiative to subsidize clean-energy vehicles and projects. Or like Bing, who flushed a boatload of cash in 2006 on an initiative to fund alternative energy by taxing oil wells.

Yet those with exceptionally deep pockets can't resist the temptation to try to impose their political will on the state.

This year, eight of the 11 measures on the ballot have drawn between 35% and 99% of their support from single individuals, according to MapLight, a nonprofit campaign-finance watchdog.

ENDORSEMENTS: The Times' recommendations for Nov. 6

The Nicolas Berggruen Institute Trust, a philanthropy funded by financier Nicolas Berggruen, has thrown more than $1.5 million behind Proposition 31, which would implement a number of reforms in the state budget process.

Physicist and GOP activist Charles T. Munger Jr. has spent $36 million on behalf of Proposition 32, a "clean campaigns" measure whose main effect would be to make it harder for unions to raise political war chests. That's about $1 million more than he's spent opposing Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax hike.

Munger has also backed Proposition 40, a measure to uphold the state Senate districts drawn by a new citizens' commission, to the tune of $600,000. That's pocket change for Munger, but it's close to 100% of the money on the "yes" side of that initiative.

Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph has spent more than $16 million on Proposition 33, which would allow insurers to grant discounts to people who'd been insured by their competitors. It's his second attempt at a ballot measure to overturn part of 1988's Proposition 103, which barred insurers from charging drivers higher premiums solely because they weren't already uninsured.

Chris M. Kelly, a former executive at Facebook and unsuccessful candidate for California attorney general, has poured more than $2.3 million into Proposition 35, which would crack down on human trafficking.

Liberal financier George Soros has donated $1 million to support Proposition 36, which would limit how California's three-strikes law is applied to nonviolent felons.

Civil rights lawyer Molly Munger -- sister of the aforementioned Charles Munger -- has ponied up more than $44 million for Proposition 38, which would raise the state income tax to raise money for public schools and early childhood education.

Finally, financier and clean-energy advocate Thomas Steyer has provided more than $28 million for Proposition 39, which would eliminate a tax break for multi-state corporations to temporarily fund energy-efficiency projects.

The polls suggest that Propositions 36, 39 and 40 are on track to passing, but the others on this list have murkier prospects. For the record, those three have all been endorsed by The Times' editorial board, which opposes Propositions 32, 33, 35 and 38.

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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