Millionaire-Inspired Ballot Measures Fare Worse than Hoi Polloi Initiatives

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

More than half of the 11 propositions on the California ballot yesterday appeared courtesy of wealthy individuals—millionaires and billionaires who had a vision and the cash to shape the focus, by and large, of the state’s political discourse over the past six months.

Only two of the six appeared to have won their contests, and they were arguably the most progressive of the bunch. Three of the other five measures, put on the ballot by the state or a member of the public lacking mega-bucks status, appeared to have won.

Prop. 31. Budget and governance reform. Nicholas Berggruen, born in Paris of German-Jewish parents, educated in Switzerland and trained in economics in London, started his fortune in New York real estate and is known as the “homeless billionaire” because he lives in hotels. He kicked in $1.6 million, three times the next largest contribution, in a failed cause. Lost

Prop. 32. Anti-union political donations reform. Charles T. Munger, Jr., physicist and son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire partner, donated $55 million to defeat Governor Jerry Brown’s Prop. 30, but this proposition―which falsely claimed to impact corporations as much as unions―was his pride and joy. He donated $50 million to the cause. Lost   

Prop. 33. Auto insurance reform. George Joseph, 91-year-old billionaire chairman of Mercury Insurance, put up $16 million to fund most of the paid support for a measure that favors drivers who have not had a lapse in coverage. That’s bad news for young and low-income drivers. He was the primary backer of a similar measure that narrowly lost in 2010. Lost

Prop. 35. Human trafficking. Chris Kelly, former Facebook chief privacy officer, put the law-and-order measure―which could have unforeseen effects on obscenity and prostitution cases―on the ballot and contributed the lion’s share ($2.4 million) of its funding. The opposition raised virtually no money. Won

Prop. 38. Tax hike for public schools. Molly Munger, lawyer, civil rights activist and sister of Charles T. Munger, Jr., pushed a ballot measure that many thought would kill the governor’s competing Prop. 30. Although she ponied up $45.5 million, it was not to be. Lost

Prop. 39. End of multi-state business tax. Tom Steyer, hedge fund founder and environmentalist, pumped $32.3 million into the ballot’s most progressive measure. It also doubles as a conduit for promoting energy efficient projects and clean energy jobs. Paid opposition was practically non-existent. Won

Although the six millionaire propositions were well-funded―often by their proponents―a few of the less-individually inspired measures were also well endowed by millionaires.

Reed Hastings gave $1 million in support of Governor Brown’s Prop. 30 tax hike to benefit higher education. It won. Nicholas Pritzker gave $1 million to the ill-fated Prop. 34 repeal of the death penalty, and the successful Prop. 36 received $1 million from billionaire investor George Soros to ease the three-strikes law.

Kent Wheely, co-founder of the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange, gave $1 million in support of Prop. 37, the genetically-modified food labeling initiative. It  lost. Prop. 40, a referendum on the state’s recent redistricting, was worded in a way that a “Yes” vote actually defied its proponents, who wanted the redistricting undone. No one person contributed a million dollars or more to the cause and it suffered a crushing defeat at the polls. Or in this case of obfuscated politics, the measure passed overwhelmingly.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

The Ballot's Millionaires and Billionaires (by Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times)

California Election Results (California Secretary of State)

Proposition 2012 Cheat Sheet (KCET)

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