Death and taxes may be the only certainties in this world, but when it comes to campaign contributions, Palo Alto residents are far more interested in addressing the former than the latter, finance documents show.
More than 100 local residents have joined the fight to repeal the death penalty, a California state proposition on the Nov. 6 ballot that the City Council voted to support last month. Though the contribution amounts are not huge, their sheer number surpasses those given to other proposition campaigns and stem largely from donors with ties to the legal and faith communities.
By far the biggest campaign bucks, however, support or oppose the two competing tax measures -- Propositions 30 and 38 -- on the Nov. 6 ballot, campaign-finance documents indicate.
The fight over Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax initiative, has attracted major campaign contributions statewide, with the two sides raising more than $110 million in cash, according to Maplight, a nonprofit that tracks campaign finances. Most local contributions have been made in favor of Brown's plan, which would increase income tax for those making more than $250,000 a year and increase the sales tax by ¼ cents over four years. The sales tax, Brown has argued, is necessary to avoid a series of steep cuts to education and public safety that would be implemented early next year if voters strike down Proposition 30.
The quest to defeat Brown's tax plan is being led by Palo Alto-based political activist Charles Munger Jr., whose half-sister, Molly Munger, is pursuing a rival tax measure, Proposition 38. Charles Munger's contribution of $35 million accounts for about two-thirds of the funds in the campaign against Proposition 30. Munger is the husband of former Palo Alto Board of Education member Mandy Lowell, who on Aug. 21 spoke to the board urging their support of Proposition 38.
The only other multi-million dollar contribution in opposition of Brown's tax measure came from the group Americans for Responsible Leadership, an Arizona-based group that backs Republican causes. The organization contributed $11 million in opposition to Proposition 38, according to Maplight.
Palo Alto donors have also been largely silent on Proposition 38. Campaign documents show no contributions either in favor or in opposition to Molly Munger's measure, which would increase personal income taxes on a sliding scale and use the revenues largely to fund education.
Though Charles Munger is by far the top contributor to the campaign opposing Brown's tax initiative, he isn't the only affluent Palo Altan hoping to defeat Proposition 30. The opposing campaign has received significant checks from several local venture capitalists, including Tench Coxe and William Younger of Sutter Hill Ventures, each of whom has contributed $25,000 to the campaign. Local developer Boyd Smith chipped in another $1,000.
On the other side of the spectrum is George Marcus, chairman of the Palo Alto-based real-estate firm Marcus & Millichap. A frequent Democratic donor, Marcus contributed $100,000 in support of Brown's tax proposal. His contribution was by far the largest among Palo Alto donors, though the pro-Proposition 30 campaign also received $100 checks from Foothill-De Anza Community College District trustees Bruce Swenson and Betsy Bechtel.
Not surprisingly, the largest contributions to Proposition 30 have come from labor unions. According to Maplight, the California Teachers Association contributed $10.4 million to support the proposition, while the Services Employees International Union contributed $9.9 million.
While the Palo Alto City Council has remained on the sidelines for the two tax measures, the Palo Alto Unified School district passed a resolution last month in support of Propositions 30 and 38. Board member Dana Tom was one of several board members who said he would prefer a more permanent revenue source for education. But while each proposition has its flaws, the consequences of both failing would be severe for schools, Tom argued.
"At the end of the day, the effects of neither passing would be far worse for education in our state and for many other aspects of our state," Tom said at the Sept. 4 meeting of the school board.
The showdown between major labor unions and wealthy investors isn't limited to Proposition 30. According to Maplight, Charles Munger is also the top supporter of Proposition 32, which would prohibit unions from using funds from payroll deductions for political campaigns and prohibit unions from making contributions to candidates. Munger's $36 million contribution to Proposition 32 comprises 60 percent of the campaign's total war chest of $59.4 million. Other Palo Alto-based supporters of Proposition 32 include Thomas Siebel, chairman of First Virtual Group, who contributed $500,000; William Edwards, managing director of Palo Alto Investors, who contributed $100,000; Boyd Smith, who contributed $31,000; and Coxe, who contributed $15,000. Stewart Koch, Mountain View-based investor, contributed $25,000 in favor of Proposition 32.
Opponents of Proposition 32, meanwhile, have raised $68.8 million largely through union support. The California Teachers Association contributed $21 million, with SEIU pitching in another $13.1 million. The "No on 32" campaign had not, however, received any financial support from individual Palo Alto donors.
The same cannot be said about Proposition 34, which would end California's death penalty; establish life without the possibility of parole as the state's most severe punishment; and create a $100 million fund to assist law-enforcement agencies with investigations. The Palo Alto City Council has already thrown its unanimous support behind the measure, and campaign-finance documents suggest that local residents largely share that sentiment. Palo Altans submitted more than 120 checks in support of Proposition 34, with most of the funds coming from local attorneys and law professors. The opposition campaign did not receive a single check from Palo Alto.
The top local donor in favor of Proposition 34 is Michael Kieschnick, manager at CREDO Mobile, a wireless company, who donated $10,000. Attorney Mitchell Zimmerman of the firm Fenwick & West contributed more than $6,000, while Ellen Kreitzberg, a law professor at Santa Clara University contributed $2,490. Thomas Nolan, a local attorney with Nolan, Armstrong & Barton, LLP, donated $1,300.
The proposed death-penalty repeal is also drawing support from the local faith community. The First Presbyterian Church has contributed $1,000, and Frances Kieschnick, an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church, donated another $1,000.
Local politicians are also coming out in favor of Proposition 34. Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss, who is running for the Palo Alto City Council, contributed $100 to the repeal of the death penalty while former Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, a Mountain View resident who is running for state Senate, chipped in $350. Stacy Stern and Timothy Stanley, top executives with the Mountain View-based company Justia.com, also contributed $500 each.
Correction The original article mistakenly stated, per information from the California Secretary of State's Office, that Tench Coxe works for Versant Ventures. Instead, he works for Sutter Hill Ventures.