Jerry Perenchio: California's Sheldon Adelson

While Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers have become emblematic of outside spending at the national level, it is local outside spending that could have the greatest impact on policy.

Jerry Perenchio is California's homegrown Sheldon Adelson, and he's using his fortune to decide the future of the nation's most populous state. California's income inequality is among the worst in the country. And as the ongoing fight over Proposition 30 shows, that often translates into political inequality.

Proposition 30, which Californians will vote on this year, is Governor Jerry Brown’s attempt to solve the state’s budget deficit while maintaining funding of California schools by raising taxes on individuals making over $250,000 dollars a year. The initiative is badly needed. Without Prop. 30, California's budget deficit would slash education funding by $6 billion.

Perenchio recently made a $200,000 donation against Prop. 30.

As it is, California lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to education spending, class sizes, and outcomes:

That's not a result of excessive compensation or bureaucracy: It's the result of inadequate funding. California remains hamstrung by the success of Howard Jarvis' anti-tax movement in the 1970s (Under California state law, any tax increase must be approved by a supermajority of both houses of the legislature).

Perenchio embodies the problems of dark money, particularly when it's arrayed against the interests of the broader public. He's given $50 million to a wide variety of political causes over the past couple of decades. In this cycle alone, he's donated over $2 million dollars. The Sunlight Foundation reveals that Perenchio’s donations to national dark money groups like American Crossroads, Karl Rove’s operation, are matched by his donations to state and local issues. 

A revealing passage from Sunlight’s fantastic report:

“But, despite reports that he is the biggest landowner in Malibu, and worth $2.3 billion according to Forbes, Perenchio has been described as a “zelig”-like creature. He pops up everywhere — the friend of mayors, governors, presidents and movie stars — always wins big on his business interests, but remains enigmatic.”

The problem isn't isolated to Perenchio. Wealthier zip codes are wielding disproportionate power. As the chart below demonstrates, expensive LA zip codes like Perenchio's have given disproportionate amounts of money to political campaigns. 

The four zip codes surrounding Perenchio's have contributed 20 percent of the reported funding against Prop. 30. 

In response, activists yesterday, including a coalition of Prop. 30 proponents called Re-Fund California, bussed students and teachers into Perenchio's wealthy—and influential—neighborhood, during one of the state's budget-mandated no school days. In protest, they held a school day on his $50 million property and demanded that millionaires like him pay the taxes needed to fund their schools. 

The elite in California, much like the rest of the country, have come to dominate the political process. Putting real children in the face of that elite crystallizes the decision awaiting California, and the country, come November.

Should our government support kids or the rich?

An earlier version of this story stated that Perenchio was the "founder" of Univision. Perenchio was not the founder but bought the controlling stake of the company in 1992, four years after the founding of Univision, and sold it in 2007 for $13.7 billion. 

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