SACRAMENTO -- The main premise of Proposition 32 is that it would stamp out the influence of special interest groups, equally condemning corporations and unions to irrelevancy at the Capitol while ushering in a new day for regular folks.
But a look at who is behind the initiative shows that it's hardly Joe Lunch Pail who has a rooting interest in the measure, dubbed "Stop Special Interest Money Now."
Instead, it's a virtual Who's Who roster of the rich and powerful, a lineup of bankers, investors, venture capitalists, executives and other wealthy individuals, many of whom have a history of funding conservative causes and have been active participants in the power game in Sacramento. And apparently, they want the game to themselves, critics say.
"These donors don't have a strong history of trying to reduce special interest influence in politics," said Derek Cressman, regional director of Common Cause, which opposes the measure. "They're looking to weaken the voices of an interest group they disagree with while doing nothing to diminish their own spending on politics."
To be precise, labor is the main target, Cressman said. The measure ostensibly treats corporations and public employee unions equally by banning both from contributing directly to campaigns and prohibiting both from collecting dues for political purposes without employees' permission.
But corporations collect their political money differently than unions. Rarely do they gather dues from employees; instead, they draw from profits. Unions, on the other hand, rely strictly on membership dues, and say they would be severely hampered -- if not irreparably crippled -- if they had to abandon their money-gathering methods.
The key wrinkle -- the fine print that has fueled labor's $43.4 million opposition campaign -- is that certain, limited liability companies could continue to pour money into politics, as would so-called super PACs and the stealthy nonprofit organizations that are bankrolled by anonymous wealthy individuals and corporations.
Labor, led by the California Teachers Association's $19.2 million, has made full use of their members' dues to fight back.
Proponents of Proposition 32 say that labor is showing how desperate it is to maintain the status quo by pouring so much money into the campaign to defeat Prop 32.
"This is truly a battle between individual citizens and the special interests that have all the control," said Jake Suski, spokesman for Proposition 32.
Wealthy individuals with business interests have been giving generously to the Proposition 32 campaign. Charles Munger Jr., a Republican activist and physicist who heads the Santa Clara County Republican Party, has contributed $1 million directly to Proposition 32, the campaign's largest single donation from an individual. But he's also given $22 million to the Small Business Action Committee, which is running its own TV advertising campaign in support of Proposition 32.
Munger has been a key political figure in California since 2000, having poured $38 million into pet political causes, including $12 million alone for the 2010 redistricting initiative. His half-sister, attorney Molly Munger, has contributed $28 million to her own tax initiative, Proposition 38, aimed at boosting funding at California's struggling schools.
William Oberndorf, a Mill Valley hedge fund manager prominent in the school privatization movement, has poured $1.3 million into the Prop 32 campaign.
A. Jerrold Perenchio, whose Los Angeles investment firm would not be blocked from contributing to candidates under Prop 32, has supplied $250,000 to the campaign and another $550,000 to the Small Business Action Committee, a small slice of the $27.4 million he's given to conservative political causes since 2000.
"Once you connect the names with who they are, and what their financial interests are, the rest speaks for itself," said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political science professor.
The largest sum -- $4 million -- spent on behalf of Proposition 32 came not from an individual but from the American Future Fund, a nonprofit organization which on its website says it's dedicated to "conservative, free market ideals." Under the 501(c)4 section of the Internal Revenue Service code, it does not have to reveal its donors, who can give unlimited sums.
The group, based in Iowa, has known ties to the billionaire oil tycoon brothers, David and Charles Koch, whose super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, has poured millions of dollars into campaigns favoring Republicans or conservative causes across the country -- most memorably, as the backer of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who instituted far-reaching anti-labor laws.
One of the oldest rules in politics is to look at who is behind a campaign, said Melissa Michelson, political science professor at Menlo College in Atherton.
All the big-monied contributors to Proposition 32, she said, "will signal to voters that this is not the kind of measure that would be helpful to the average citizen, that it will probably just further the influence of the wealthy and big businesses."
Donors in support of Prop 32
Charles Munger Jr., Palo Alto physicist: $23 million
William Oberndorf, Mill Valley investor: $1.3 million
A. Jerrold Perenchio, Los Angeles investor: $800,000
Edward & Margaret Bloomfield, Manhattan Beach retired investor: $800,000
Thomas Siebel, Palo Alto investor: $500,000
Larry Smith, Newport Beach executive: $260,000
B. Wayne Hughes, Malibu retired investor: $200,000
Lincoln Club of Orange County: $125,000
William L. Edwards, Palo Alto investor: $100,000
Robert Oster, Menlo Park investor: $100,000
George Hume, San Francisco businessman: $100,000
Tim Draper, Menlo Park venture capitalist: $100,000
Franklin Johnson, Palo Alto investor: $50,000
Charles Johnson, San Mateo investor: $50,000
Steven Laub, Atherton investor: $50,000
Donors against Prop 32
California Teachers Association: $19.2 million
Service Employees International Union (state council): $6.7 million
Professional Firefighters: $2.6 million
Californians Working Together (AFL-CIO): $2.1 million
American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees: $1.7 million
PACE of California School Employees: $1.5 million
Peace Officers Research Association: $1.5 million
California Faculty Association: $1 million