Here is a guest post from USC’s John Matsusaka, one of the very best people working in the direct democracy area:
Yesterday the New York Times reported that rich individuals were heavily involved in funding California ballot propositions, and at a rate unlike any “ballot in modern history.” The article gave no information from previous elections to support the claim, though. To satisfy my own curiosity, I spent a few minutes online looking at the 2006 election cycle, and found that Reed Hastings spent $5 million on Prop 88, venture capitalist John Doerr spent $2 million on Prop 88, Steve Bing spent $48 million on Prop 87, and James Holman spent $2 million on Prop 85. I have a feeling it would not be difficult to find other years like this that don’t look so different from 2012 (a good research topic for election law scholars). David Broder spent an entire chapter in his 2000 book Democracy Derailed discussing rich individuals who were active in proposition campaigns in the late 1990s — back then it was Ron Unz on bilingual education, Paul Allen on a football stadium for the Seahawks football team, Reed Hastings on charter schools, and George Soros on medical marijuana, among others. It may be noteworthy that the wealthy are active in initiative politics, but I am not sure it is anything new.