Ron Kaye: Eyeing the propositions

With absolute certainty, I am prepared a month before the election to predict the outcome in California: President Obama will carry the nation's largest state and Democrats will maintain dominance in both houses of the state Legislature.

Of course everybody but the most ardent and optimistic partisan knows that since our general elections are more confirmations of the status quo than choices about which direction to take for our future.

Sure, an unusually popular Republican could still win a state office now and again, even the governorship; but it's going to take a political earthquake to shake things up.

Your vote still matters, though, and so do your values when it comes to the 11 ballot propositions that could raise taxes, bar unions from using payroll-deducted funds for politics, ban the death penalty, limit the three-strikes law to serious third offenses and so much more — or less, depending on your point of view.

There's even a measure that would make require labeling of genetically engineered foods — well at least some of them — so consumers will know they are not what nature created all by herself.

It is all very confusing, especially when you are bombarded with totally misleading ads and mailers that have little or nothing to do with what is on the ballot.

Lesson No. 1 in politics is “follow the money” and makes that a lot easier to do. You can see who benefits and who gets hurt and how much they care. Top contributors to each of the 11 measures as of Sept. 30 are online at

Take the governor's sales and income tax increase plan, Proposition 30, which has attracted nearly $16 million from teachers and school employees and $6.5 million from the Service Employees International Union — which contributed to its total donor tally of a $41.3 million. Meanwhile, opponents generated just $3.1 million, among them, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and small businesses, which could only find $1.4 million to oppose it.

The much tougher income tax hike measure, Proposition 38, has a disparity of $28.3 million (nearly all of it from Pasadena attorney Molly Munger, daughter of Warren Buffett's partner Charles Munger) versus $32,000, mostly from the California Chamber of Commerce. Unlike the governor's plan, it actually guarantees the revenue for education, which has helped it win support from school boards and the PTA — although the teachers lobby has shunned it.

Good government types like Nicolas Berggruen and California Forward have helped raise $4.1 million for Proposition 31, which would require the state to adopt a two-year budget and other fiscally responsible measures, much to the displeasure of labor. How much displeasure? Unions have only put up $200,000 to fight it.

Fighting Proposition 32 is what matters to labor, and for good reason. It would cut them off at their funding source by barring the use of payroll deductions for political purposes by unions, corporations and government contractors, which means that for all intents and purposes, it only applies to labor.

Charles T. Munger Jr., half-brother to Molly, dropped nearly $1 million into the $9-million campaign for the measure, but that is chump change compared to the $45.6 million spent against it. Eight unions, led by teachers with an $18-million contribution, gave more than Munger to fight the measure.

Proposition 33 pits insurers against consumer groups over whether the companies can sock it to people without continuous or previous coverage. It's not a fair fight in terms of money: $8.5 million vs. $94,000.

Proposition 34 is a matter of life or death for the 725 prisoners, including 19 women, on California's death row. Supporters have raised $5.9 million, compared to the $245,000 from cops, deputies and prosecutors.

The title, “Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act,” or SAFE California, tells you all you need to know: The main argument is capital punishment is a waste of money ($100,000 million a year extra) since no one has been executed in six years.

Tougher sentences for human traffickers would be imposed under Proposition 35, which has raised $2.4 million and has endorsements from nearly 300 groups of all types from throughout the state. No one has donated to fight this and its only opponent is something called Erotic Service Providers Union.

Billionaire ultra-liberal George Soros gave half of the $2.3 million to Proposition 36, which would soften the Three Strikes Law, which has only $100,000 against it from the Peace Officers Research Assn.

More controversial by far is Proposition 37, which covers the labeling of some genetically engineered foods. Organic and natural food companies are gung-ho, raising $4.1 million, but they face big money — $34.5 million — from Monsanto, Dupont, Dow, BASF and Bayer Cropscience.

Supported by environmentalists, billionaire hedge fund founder Thomas Steyer has put up nearly all the $23 million to make out-of-state corporations pay income taxes on their sales in California, with the money to go to clean energy for five years. There is no “No” campaign.

And finally, Proposition 40 — where Charles T. Munger Jr., a Republican whose money produces winners 99% of the time — has put up nearly $500,000 to fight his own party over whether state Senate districts should be drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission or the California Supreme Court.

Once again, the theater is in the ballot propositions, all of which should contain a “Buyer Beware” warning label, since these measures have a pattern of not always turning out to be what they seem.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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