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Campaign Finances Getting Personal

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Special-interest money is getting downright personal in this year's state election, with four mega-millionaires tossing a combined $125 million into the pot - mostly on initiatives they put on the ballot themselves.

"We've never seen anything like this," said Corey Cook, an associate professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. "We've had the Meg Whitmans spend big on their own races for office, but this is definitely a new twist on the initiative process."

Of the big hitters, nobody - but nobody - beats the Mungers.

Molly Munger and her half brother, Charles Munger Jr. - the children of Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charles Munger - have pumped more than $80 million into the Nov. 6 election.

The biggest hitter is Molly, who has spent $44.1 million of her own money on qualifying and trying to pass Proposition 38, which would raise the state income tax to scoop up more money for schools.

But even with all that cash, the measure appears to be failing.

Charles Jr., a Stanford physicist with a libertarian bent, has contributed $36 million to a committee with the dual aim of defeating a competing tax measure by Gov. Jerry Brown and passing Proposition 32, which would bar unions from using members' dues for politics.

Combined, the Mungers have outspent even the heavyweight California Teachers Association by more than 2-to-1.

And they aren't the only gazillionaires throwing their wallets around.

Money manager and Stanford trustee Thomas Steyer has spent $29 million, with most of it going into Proposition 39 to close a corporate tax loophole in hopes of netting the state $1 billion a year.

Then there's Mercury Insurance magnate George Joseph, who has forked over $16.4 million in an effort to rewrite the state's auto insurance rules, Proposition 33.

It's not the first time at the dance for either Charles Munger Jr. or Steyer. Munger popped onto the scene a few years back as a supporter of open primaries and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's drive to remove redistricting from the Legislature's control.

Steyer, who is active in environmental causes, was a big donor in the successful effort to defeat a 2010 ballot measure that would have suspended the state's new greenhouse gas limits.