Editor’s note: The Mungers are Joel Fox’s nominee for the Fox & Hounds Black Bart Award. This annual award goes to the Californian of the year in the world of politics – decided by Joel Fox, John Wildermuth & Joe Mathews.
Between them, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Munger Jr. spent about $80 million — give or take a few million — on ballot measures and candidates this past election. Their influence was felt widely during the election and made them prominent figures on the California political scene. More importantly, just because the election is over and their money did not convince voters to follow their leads in all matters, don’t expect the Mungers to disappear. Their influence on the causes they espouse will endure. Expect both Mungers to continue efforts to change policy. They may also be the reason for some policy changes in initiative law.
Because of the impact the Mungers had on the political scene this past year, I nominate Molly Munger and Charles Munger Jr. as my Black Bart Award nominees for 2012.
While the Mungers made a splash on California’s political map this past year, they have both been working for many years on policy and political issues that move them. Charles Munger has tried to change the direction of the California Republican Party, which has lost the esteem for many swing voters and even some Republicans. He has also dedicated himself to changing governance rules in the state being a major supporter of both the redistricting reforms passed by the voters and the top-two primary system.
Molly Munger has been a champion for civil rights and education reform, dedicating herself full time to these endeavors when she helped create the Advancement Project in Los Angeles in the 1990s.
Over the summer and well into the election season, Molly received reams of attention for her support of Proposition 38, an income tax increase measure designed to funnel new revenues directly to schools. The news media, being what it is, much of the stories about Munger’s effort focused on the effect Prop 38 might have on Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure, Proposition 30, which Brown also claimed was created to fund schools.
Molly disagreed with the governor’s campaign and was subject to withering criticism when she put up ads for a few days that attacked Brown’s measure.
Charles Munger Jr. not only got involved in some legislative races, especially during the June primary supporting Republican candidates that he believed would help reshape the party, but he was also the major donor in opposing Gov. Brown’s tax increase and supporting the political fundraising reforms of Proposition 32. (Much of his resources on the ballot measures went to a committee that I ran.) Munger also was the lead funder for Proposition 40 to protect the recent redistricting reform.
The Mungers are now established figures on the California political scene and I don’t expect them to disappear. Championing Proposition 38, Molly Munger knew that at a minimum, she was laying the foundation for a longer battle to reform school finance. Her brother, Charles, told the California Chamber of Commerce post-election conference that he would continue to work on improving the Republican Party and pursue reform goals.
Some reforms may come about in part because of the Mungers involvement in the political process.
The Mungers were not the only wealthy citizens to involve themselves in California’s initiative process. In fact, a couple of other initiatives on November’s ballot were sponsored almost exclusively by the well-off: Proposition 33, the car insurance measure and Proposition 39, the tax on corporations headquartered out-of-state. Yet, the Mungers involvement probably was in Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s thinking when he suggested that one initiative reform he was looking at is that an initiative might need to have a certain number of smaller donations to qualify for the ballot instead of letting one wealthy individual finance an initiative measure.
The impact of Molly Munger and Charles Munger Jr. on California’s political landscape in 2012 certainly qualifies them for Black Bart Award consideration.