Big spenders bankroll California propositions, but money doesn't guarantee passage


Six of the 11 statewide ballot measures Californians will be deciding next month have very wealthy people bankrolling one side.

New campaign finance reports compiled by identified some of the biggest donors.

Molly Munger has contributed $44 million to her own Proposition 38 campaign to fund public schools through an income-tax increase.

Her brother, Charles Munger, has given $36 million to defeat his sister's rival, Governor Jerry Brown's tax measure Proposition 30. Charles also hopes the money helps win approval for Prop. 32, which curtails labor unions' influence in politics.

Venture capitalist Tom Steyer has spent $29 million of his own money for green energy projects spelled out in his Proposition 39.

And Mercury Insurance founder George Joseph has pumped $16 million into Prop. 33, which changes how car insurance rates are calculated.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it's OK to give unlimited amounts of money to ballot measures.

"I think it's telling voters that the initiative process isn't for everyone," said Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation. "When you see this many wealthy people crowded all on one ballot together, putting in these giant sums of money, it's really unprecedented."

California Common Cause took a lot money from Charles Munger during a previous election because it couldn't get government reform through the Legislature. The group says someone has to pay for all those ads and campaign efforts.

"To qualify a ballot measure takes an incredible amount of time and energy and money to actually gather the signatures needed and required by the Constitution," said Phillip Ung, a spokesman for California Common Cause.

But money doesn't always win. The California Voter Foundation says voters only approve a third of initiatives because it's harder to convince people to vote "yes."

"You can buy your way on to the ballot, but you cannot buy the voters' votes," said Alexander.

The Humane Society of the United States, though, got Prop. 2 passed in 2008 largely on a grassroots effort, and now hens must have more room in cages.

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