Criminal sentencing initiative draws well-heeled supporters

Twin Towers Correctional Facility
Proposition 47 would reduce penalties for drug possession and thefts below $950 -- reducing offenders’ time in jail. Shown is the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles on Sept. 23.
(Patrick T. Fallon / Bloomberg)

The push by progressive foundations and a conservative evangelist to recast some of California’s most common crimes as misdemeanors is drawing major financial support from the state’s well-heeled activists. 

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and finance scion Molly Munger have thrown in with progressive activist Steven Phillips and Christian ministries proponent B. Wayne Hughes to help raise more than $4 million for Proposition 47. 

The proposition would reclassify seven common crimes as misdemeanors instead of leaving prosecutors the option of seeking felony convictions. The list includes drug possession and crimes involving forgery, check fraud and theft of less than $950 — including handguns.

Hughes is son of the billionaire founder of the Public Storage chain. Munger is the daughter of a billionaire advisor to Warren Buffet.


According to campaign finance reports filed Monday, Hughes has contributed $1.2 million to the cause, largely matching funding from Democratic idealist George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center. The initiative has been working social media lines for months, attracting support from the likes of rapper Jay Z and performer Harry Belafonte.

The organized opposition to the ballot initiative comes largely from police unions and county prosecutors, who have raised some $280,000. Most of that has already been paid to marketing firms that will stuff voters’ mailboxes with fliers in the coming month.

The initiative is sponsored by a political committee spun off from Californians for Safety and Justice, itself a creation of state and national progressive and social justice foundations.