Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Lopsided spending in California initiative races

Naomi Johnson, 93, visits a voting booth to vote in 2008.
Naomi Johnson, 93, visits a voting booth to vote in 2008.

With Labor Day finally behind us, consider this your official welcome to the 2016 election.

Don’t expect too much California activity out of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, unless the presidential candidates are here to raise money. Clinton has maintained a very comfortable lead statewide, despite Trump’s repeated vows to make the Democratically-dominated state competitive. California’s U.S. Senate race between frontrunner Kamala Harris and fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez remains a somnolent affair.

But the ballot will still feature flashes of excitement and big spending thanks to a handful of swing congressional and legislative seats – and direct democracy.

Among the 17 measures going before voters on Nov. 8 is a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 years and older, Proposition 64. Voters will also decide on dueling initiatives to abolish the state’s long-dormant death penalty, Proposition 62, and to streamline the appeals process, Proposition 66.

Handicapping initiatives based purely on financial resources can be a fool’s errand. Proposition 103, the landmark initiative from 1988 giving the elected state insurance commissioner authority to regulate rates for car, homeowner, property and casualty insurance, was outspent by a whooping 60-to-1.

Nonetheless, there’s value in scrutinizing the money chase, and you can do it daily yourself at The Money Trail.

Take Proposition 51, the $9 billion bond for K-12 schools and community colleges. Is it a good idea? Supporters like the California Building Industry Association, which helped raise nearly $9 million from Jan. 1 though Sept. 1, certainly believe so. But the measure faces no institutional opposition, and thus nothing has been raised toward its defeat.

Proponents of the school bond aren’t the only ones with a big fundraising lead.

Proposition 55, extending for a dozen years a version of the tax increases approved by voters in 2012, is bankrolled by powerful teachers unions and health interests to the tune of $43 million, and counting.

Proposition 61, which would impose drug price controls and is sponsored by Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has taken in $9.5 million. That’s a pretty solid sum at this point in the election, yet it pales in comparison to the drug-industry fueled opposition’s nearly $87 million.

Republican megadonor Charles Munger’s Proposition 54 requiring bills to be in print three days before votes has amassed about $8 million. Democrats, mostly in private, grouse about handing the Stanford physicist an electoral victory, yet none have come forward to open their wallet and work to take it down. Campaigning against an initiative that purports to put voters ahead of special interests maybe isn’t the best look.

Proposition 62, the death penalty repeal backed by former “M*A*S*H” star Mike Farrell, took in $4.57 million. Law enforcement organizations leading the opposition could use considerable financial help. Still, it’s unclear if it will ever come because many of those groups are playing defense against pot legalization and Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57 criminal justice ballot measure, all while working to streamline the death penalty process via Proposition 66.

See more at The Money Trail.

A MESSAGE TO JERRY: Last week, the Legislature passed one of the bills from state Sen. Connie Levya, D-Chino, that didn’t get “Levya-ed.”

Senate Bill 813 would end the statue of limitations for certain sex crimes. Now, Levya and other groups are calling on Brown to sign it. On Tuesday, Levya and Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, one of the bill’s coauthors, will speak at a press conference urging Brown to sign their bill.

Also scheduled to speak are two of the bill’s cosponsors, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, a state attorney general aspirant, and former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler, executive director of the California Women’s Law Center. The press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Capitol room 3191.

Separate from the press conference, EndRapeSOL, a grassroots organization supporting the bill, is holding a rally at the north side of the Capitol urging Brown to sign Levya’s bill. The group has a permit from the California Highway Patrol from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

CELEBRATE: A very happy birthday to former Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod, who turns 75.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago