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Losing elections proves expensive in California

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

The smart money hit the mat in some of California’s prominent ballot measure elections last week, as some of the better bankrolled measures did not gain traction with voters despite having a bigger war chest.

Much of the talk in the state and nation leading up to the November general election focused on how the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision — which effectively declined to limit expenditures by corporations and/or unions — would affect elections.

Many political pundits saw the ruling and the ensuing establishment of political action committees as a corruption of American democracy with powerful special interests able to bankroll the campaigns of individuals sympathetic to their political wishes.

While the overarching roll of money in representative democracy will continue to be debated, one look at California ballot measure elections demonstrates that out-earning and spending the opposition does not vouchsafe victory.

Just ask Charles Munger Jr., a California-based physicist and Republican activist who spent about $76 million on various ballot propositions and received zero return on his investment. Munger’s contributions include a donation of about $35 million to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax plan, Proposition 30, which garnered about 5.4 million votes (54 percent) on its way to passage.

Nevertheless, those in support of Proposition 30 raised about $16 million more than Munger and his fellow contributors and salted away the victory.

Munger also spent another $35 million in support of Proposition 32, which would have curbed unions’ abilities to contribute toward political candidates. But again the opposition outspent Munger and his fellow supporters and the measure failed with 56 percent of California voters saying “No.”

While the most money won in both of those prominent ballot measures, supporters of Proposition 31 spent about $4 million more than the opposition to no avail, as the measure failed with 60 percent of voters expressing opposition.

Those in favor of Proposition 33, which would have allowed car insurance companies to set rates based on customers’ insurance history, spent about $16.8 million more than the other side, but it didn’t matter as the initiative failed by a 10-percentage-point margin.

Judging by money alone, Proposition 34, which sought to repeal the death penalty, appeared set to win going away as supporters raised $8 million, while those in opposition managed only about $400,000. Despite the imbalance in fundraising, the measure failed, only gaining 47 percent of the vote.

Proposition 37, which sought to mandate the labeling of food that had genetically modified ingredients, was defeated by voters as 53 percent said no.

The vote went with the money, as opponents to the initiative, which included food corporations like Monsanto and Pepsi making huge contributions to the “No” campaign, but many experts believed it was the negative press and not the nearly $35 million fundraising gap, attached the proposition that led to its defeat. The Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Sacramento Bee all issued editorials urging voters to side against the proposition, pointing out significant flaws in how the food labeling measure was written, calling it a sloppy law that would open the door for frivolous lawsuits and would harm food producers up and down the supply chain.

The largest funding discrepancy in any of the state ballot measures was Proposition 38, which was introduced and financed by Molly Munger, Charles Munger’s sister and a civil rights attorney in Southern California.

Molly Munger managed to raise $47.8 million in support of her plan to bolster education funding by giving a percentage of taxes directly to schools.

The opposition managed less than $50,000.

Despite the $47 million gap, the measure failed handily with 73 percent of voters saying no.

Finally, Proposition 40, which proposed a redrawing of state senate districts, did not succeed despite having a larger war chest.

Proposition 39, which will institute taxes for multi-state business based on a percentage of the sales that are conducted in California, passed. Proponents raised $32 million and opponents managed to generate $45,000 in funds.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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