SKELTON: Hiram Johnson, where are you?
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Hiram Johnson, the revered reformer and father of the California
It was 101 years ago that Gov
Over the last century, 354 initiatives have qualified for the ballot through signature collecting, and 120 have been passed by voters. That’s a success rate of only 34
But Johnson’s ideal of citizen empowerment to fight the moneyed interests has been turned on its head. More and more over the years, California’s initiative system has become a tool of the special interests and a plaything of the mega-rich.
It’s almost unfathomable that $372 million was spent to promote or attack the 11 measures on last week’s state ballot. That figure comes from MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that crunches numbers from the secretary of state.
To put it in perspective, that amount of money could pay for the annual tuitions of 31,000 undergrad
The top 20 donors provided 69
The second-biggest donor was Molly’s half brother, Stanford physicist and Republican activist Charles Munger Jr. He spent $37 million on two other losing causes: Prop
So the Munger siblings
Then there was hedge-fund billionaire Thomas F. Steyer of San Francisco, a Democratic donor and environmentalist. He wrote checks for $30 million on a winner, his Prop
The Mungers and Steyer probably aren’t the sort of ordinary citizens Johnson had in mind when he championed the initiative system.
Brown turned to unions to foot most of the bill for his tax increase. In all, Map-Light reports, he raised about $70 million, primarily from special interests. Think a few might have their hooks into him? You’d have to be awfully naïve to think not.
So what can be done about all this? Practically nothing - not as long as the U.S. Supreme Court continues to equate money with speech, not property.
However, one of this year’s most cynical and arrogant abuses of direct democracy could be corrected by the Legislature. It could require complete disclosure of funding sources and ban the use of laundered money in initiative campaigns.
Actually, the obscure Arizona outfit that dumped $11 million of laundered money into the pro-32 and anti-30 campaigns wound up sullying its own causes. It gave Brown a sleazy target to shoot at and raised suspicions among voters: If these shadowy donors had nothing to hide, why were they hiding?
Full disclosure is one piece of a hefty package of initiative reforms that Steinberg plans to introduce in the next Legislature. Most of his proposals would need approval from voters.
Steinberg also would:
Brown wound up spending $8 million in special-interest money to collect signatures for the initiative.
This would insert some representative democracy into the initiative system, Steinberg says.
Note to Prop
John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at USC, calls California’s initiative system
George Skelton is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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