New York foundations bankrolled Proposition 47


The power of nonprofit foundations to change state law was exemplified by the bankrolling of Proposition 47, a $9.5-million campaign that reduced drug possession and minor theft charges to misdemeanors. By contrast, opponents reported spending a total of $550,000, much of it raised from law enforcement groups, new campaign reports show.

The main Yes on 47 committee, a spinoff from foundation-backed organizations pledged to change sentencing laws in California, reported spending $9 million on the ballot measure – more than twice what the committee’s previous spending report showed.

More than $500,000 of that money in turn went to California Calls, which recruited community groups to man phone banks and get out the vote.


Other money found its way into the campaign through PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizers, which reported nearly $400,000 in field work by affiliates across the state.

The biggest chunk of Proposition 47 funding came from New York hedge fund billionaire George Soros, whose Open Society Foundation contributed $1.4 million directly. Other Soros money was less visible.

An Open Society spokesperson acknowledged to The Times that one month before election day, the Soros foundation made a $50-million grant to the American Civil Liberties Union -- money available for spending even though the terms of the award were still being worked out. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the early release of funding.

ACLU spokeswoman Marsha Zeesman confirmed that part of the Soros grant – not announced until after the election -- was used in the California campaign.

The ACLU gave $3.5 million to the Proposition 47 campaign in the weeks before the election. The Soros grant will not be publicly disclosed until the organization’s federal tax filings are due more than a year from now.

The Atlantic Advocacy Fund, the philanthropy of New York billionaire Charles Feeney, provided $800,000 to the Yes on 47 campaign, and Christian conservative real estate investor B. Wayne Hughes contributed $1.275 million.


For criminal justice reporting, follow @paigestjohn on Twitter.