Munger campaign sues to keep Brown tax plan down ballot

9:54 PM, Jun 28, 2012   |    comments
Molly Munger, the wealthy activist behind Proposition 38.
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Setting up a legal diversion to an impending political battle, civil rights attorney Molly Munger filed a lawsuit Thursday afternoon to keep Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative right where started out: near the bottom of the November statewide ballot.

The 16 page lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, is about as much proof as one could get of just how important Munger's tax initiative campaign sees this week's legislative attempt to reshuffle the ballot.

"In close elections," says the lawsuit, "ballot order can determine the success of failure of a measure."

The lawsuit largely focuses on the actions of the Legislature this week, and asserts that the budget 'trailer' bill which moved the Brown measure up higher on the ballot -- AB 1499 -- had nothing to do with the budget at all:

AB 1499 does not amend a statute to reduce state services in order to promote a balanced budget, further any fiscal or budgetary policy, or assist in implementation of any provision of the state budget.  Instead, the purpose and essence of AB 1499 is to effect a substantive change to the existing statutory rules for ordering ballot measures.

As was reported on Tuesday, the bill was crafted to be seen as budget bill by appropriating a small amount of money ($1000) from the state's general fund.  Otherwise, it's almost entirely devoted to a permanent change in state election law: giving all current and future constitutional initiatives and bond measures top billing "because of the profound and lasting impact these measures can have on our state."

Interestingly, the lawsuit goes further than any machinations under the Capitol dome -- suggesting elections officials in Los Angeles and Alameda counties on June 20 gave Brown's temporary tax hike preferential treatment over the Munger temporary tax hike.

Initiative measures are placed on the statewide ballot in the order in which they chronologically qualified.  And the Munger team (not to mention backers of a government reform proposal) turned in signatures ahead of the Brown allies -- and thus, thought they'd be placed higher on the ballot.

But for some reason, Brown's measure qualified first.

"Petitioners allege," says the lawsuit, "that the governor's initiative has received this significant electoral advantage only because two populous counties, Los Angeles and Alameda counties, failied to comply with their statutory duty."

Munger, whose personal wealth stems in large part from her father's business partnership with billionaire Warren Buffett, has clashed with Governor Brown's camp for months over whether multiple tax hikes on the same ballot would lead voters to summarily reject all of them.  The 63-year old Pasadena attorney told reporters this past winter that she wasn't going to "just do what the king says" in setting aside her $10 billion a year income tax increase for K-12 schools.

The lawsuit came just hours after Munger, in backing out of a speech scheduled for next month to the Sacramento Press Club to "shift the attention away from herself."

The attention hasn't been surprising; after all, she's been the sole contributor to the effort so far with more than $7 million of her own money.  And as she said in an interview earlier this year, she's prepared to bankroll the entire campaign herself.

But if Munger is hoping to slide out of the spotlight, then being the plaintiff in a lawsuit that specifically takes aim at the governor isn't likely to help.


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