Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Proposition wars: Molly Munger goes on the attack against Gov. Brown's measure

Civil rights attorney Molly Munger is the author and main financial backer of Proposition 38. She is also financing an ad campaign attacking Gov. Brown's competing measure, Proposition 30.
Civil rights attorney Molly Munger is the author and main financial backer of Proposition 38. She is also financing an ad campaign attacking Gov. Brown's competing measure, Proposition 30.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Propositions 30 and 38 — the competing measures on the November ballot that promise to fund California schools — had been running polite campaigns, with neither side attacking the other. But the Prop 38 campaign has broken that tenuous peace with a TV ad that aims to cripple its counterpart.

Teachers unions are backing Prop 30 — Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to temporarily raise the sales tax and income taxes on high earners to prevent billions in education cuts next year. The PTA endorses Prop 38 — a sliding-scale income tax hike that would funnel money into a fund for public schools and early childhood programs.

Many supporters in each camp have been planning to vote for both because if either proposition passes, that’s better for schools than if both fail. But Prop 38 author Molly Munger forced people to choose sides this week when she launched an ad condemning the Governor’s tax plan.

The ad shows money flowing into a school and out again, into the hands of politicians.

A youthful narrator says: “Prop 30 says they send new money to our schools. But fact checkers say that’s misleading. Prop 30 sends money in here, but let’s politicians take it out here. That’s why Sacramento’s behind it.”

At issue is how much of Prop 30's revenues would be devoted to public education — from elementary schools to universities. The Legislative Analyst’s office has said Prop 30 will free up billons in general fund revenues that would otherwise go to education, and politicians will decide how to spend that money on other budget items, such as social services and public safety.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for the Prop 30 campaign, calls the ad “a disturbing turn of events.” He says the Governor unsuccessfully tried to strike a compromise measure with Munger early on. Newman points out it's one thing for Munger to campaign for her own proposal, but quite another to attack the Governor’s.

“You’ve got someone who claims to be an advocate for our schools attacking — with millions of dollars of television ads — the only initiative on the ballot that has a real chance of passing and that provides money for our classrooms this year.”

The most recent polls show the Governor’s tax plan passing by a slim majority — with about 54 percent of voters in support. Munger’s plan trails by double digits, with approval from about a third of voters.

“This is fratricide,” says Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. He says Munger’s negative ad could very well take down both propositions.

“Molly Munger means well," Pitney says. "She wants to pass her own initiative.  She thinks it’s a better idea, but a negative commercial is likely to bring down 30 without helping 38.  And the big winners in this competition are the opponents of both.”

Pitney says that’s because the ads could alienate voters: “They hear the claims and counter-claims and they will probably think that all or most of the measures on the ballot are tricks and traps. And when they get in that frame of mind, they either skip the propositions entirely or they vote no.”

For now, the Yes on Prop 30 campaign says it won’t launch negative ads against Munger’s Prop 38. Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies, says that’s the right way to go.

“I think Jerry Brown has to get out there and campaign, has to explain to people what the proposition does and the consequences if it fails," Stern says. "But he has a tough road ahead because many more people pay attention to the 30-second ads than pay attention to the newspaper articles or radio commentaries or TV appearances.”

Stern says the Governor wrote his tax initiative to offend the fewest people and gain the broadest support, but somehow managed to offend sibling millionaires. Civil rights attorney Molly Munger has poured $30 million into her campaign for Prop 38. Her brother, Charles Munger Jr., has contributed more than $10 million to a committee with a varied agenda that includes defeating Prop 30.

“Jerry Brown must be gnashing his teeth right now.” Stern says. 

But the Governor’s got some deep-pocketed allies: teachers unions and others have contributed $41 million to pass Proposition 30.