California Ballot Initiatives Dominated by the Very Rich – NYTimes.com
Next month, California voters will be asked to consider 11 ballot propositions whose passage would carry the full force of law, an exercise in direct democracy that traces back to the Progressive Era of the early 20th century.
This time around, though, four of them are initiatives of single rich individuals, while others are being challenged by equally wealthy critics pouring in millions of dollars to defeat them — a sign, in this era of “super PACs” and Citizens United, of the increasingly sophisticated use of the populist tool by the wealthy to influence politics in the nation’s most populous state.
Tom Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund based here, has spent $22 million on Proposition 39 to rescind a three-year-old tax benefit given to out-of-state companies. In an interview, Mr. Steyer said he decided to finance the initiative after leaders in the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to eliminate the break themselves.
“I’m someone who believes that actually the best thing we can have is a highly respected and competent Legislature,” Mr. Steyer said. “But it seemed as if there was a need for somebody to do something, and I have a bad enough temper that I figured I wasn’t going to wait any longer.”
Joining Mr. Steyer on their own deep-pocketed crusades are George Joseph, a billionaire insurance executive hoping to change the state’s auto insurance laws; Chris Kelly, a former Facebook executive who has spent $2.1 million on a proposal to crack down on human traffickers that critics say is intended to burnish his own future political prospects; and Molly Munger, the wealthy daughter of Warren E. Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway, who has mounted a tax initiative aimed at derailing Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative.