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September 16, 2012

If money can really buy elections, the death penalty will be dead in California

The title to this post is prompted by this new article from California, which is headlined "Rich and famous in Silicon Valley, Hollywood backing campaign to abolish California's death penalty." Here are excerpts:

Proposition 34, a ballot measure that would abolish the death penalty in California, faces long odds at the polls. But it has a major advantage over the opposing campaign -- wealthy donors, from Silicon Valley executives to Hollywood actors, willing to write fat checks.

With less than two months to go before the election, Proposition 34's campaign has amassed more than $5.4 million to persuade California voters to get rid of capital punishment, dwarfing the paltry $208,000 gathered by a pro-death-penalty coalition of law enforcement and victims' rights groups.

From Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to actor Ed Asner and rocker Jackson Browne, the Proposition 34 campaign has a glittering roster of the rich and famous putting money behind the first vote on whether to retain the death penalty in California since it was reinstated in 1978....

But anti-Proposition 34 forces say there is enough entrenched sentiment for the death penalty that they don't need as much to get the message out, as long as voters hear from police, prosecutors and victims' families.  "We know we are going to be out-raised because we don't have Hollywood celebrities and liberal do-gooders on our side," said McGregor Scott, a former Sacramento U.S. attorney heading the campaign against the measure. "Ours will be an old-fashioned, word-of-mouth, grass-roots" campaign....

Pundits say that with an issue such as the death penalty, it's hard to evaluate whether the "money talks" advantage in most political campaigns applies.  "Normally you see something like that and say it's a slam dunk," said Larry Gerston, a San Jose State political-science professor.  "But in this case, it's such an emotional issue for people that I don't think they need a campaign against it.  And it's always harder to get a 'yes' vote on something than a 'no' vote."

Others agree, but say that the substantial money difference could tip the scales if the polls show a tight race as the Nov. 6 election approaches.  Indeed, the Proposition 34 campaign has plans to run statewide television ads in the final weeks before the election.

"If law enforcement opposes this and nobody knows, that would be a disadvantage," said Thad Kousser, a University of San Diego political-science professor.  "If you look at the general literature on propositions, especially in California, money matters on both sides."...

The two biggest donors to Proposition 34 so far are Nicholas Pritzker, CEO of the Hyatt hotels chain, and the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, a New York-based philanthropy established by billionaire Charles Feeney.  Both have chipped in $1 million.

Silicon Valley's wealthy are also well-represented.  They include Hastings, the Netflix CEO, who donated $250,000, and the Emerson Collective, a nonprofit headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple's Steve Jobs.  Emerson contributed $150,000.

For his part, Hastings believes the main argument in favor of Proposition 34 -- that the death penalty is a waste of money -- is a good reason to back it. "In California, we will save tens of millions of dollars every year if we change from the death penalty to life in prison without chance of parole," Hastings told this newspaper in an email exchange. "That money would be better spent on educating kids instead."

I never cease to be amazed and, I suppose, impressed that so many persons are so willing to devote time, energy and now a huge amount of money in order to help ensure murderers spend the their full natural lives in a cage rather than be potentially be subject to execution by the state. (And given than more people die as a result of drunk drivers in California each year than are on California's death row, I cannot help but wonder how many more lives might be saved if all these "wealthy donors, from Silicon Valley executives to Hollywood actors, [were] willing to write fat checks" to MADD of California or to help fund passive ignition lock technologies.)

That said, I think rich donors eager to end the California death penalty might devise some more clever means to push their agenda. Rather than just give money to an ad campaign, perhaps these rich folks should offer to create a special private fund to help pay for the college education of children of murder victims which would make payouts only if the death penalty were repealed. Personally, I think the $5 million+ now already dedicated to try to sway voters "would be better spent on educating kids instead."

September 16, 2012 at 07:14 PM | Permalink


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"Rather than just give money to an ad campaign, perhaps these rich folks should offer to create a special private fund to help pay for the college education of children of murder victims which would make payouts only if the death penalty were repealed."

This sounds a bit like, "If you don't vote to repeal the death penalty, I'll shoot this puppy."

Not the most appealling pitch for those claiming to act on moral purity.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2012 7:39:59 PM

But in this case Bill, the threat is "if you do not shoot this sick puppy (murderer), I will help educate these kids." I agree that this threat might seem a bit distasteful, but is it any worse than spending $5 million+ on an ad campaign seemingly unlikely to change any minds on the basic issue?

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 16, 2012 8:52:59 PM

@ Doug B.

I find it a little more tasteless and idiotic because it's a comment you could make on the campaign for or against ANY political issue-including the one for which Hastings seems to advocate. It would be just as stupid to tell Hastings to stop donating money to abolish the death penalty in California and instead send it all to murder victims' families.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 16, 2012 9:06:51 PM

The victims of the murderers will be poor and dark skinned people working or living in prison. Although California is mostly minority, the listed donors are all cold hearted white people. They are carrying on the tradition of the KKK of supporting the highly foreseeable killing of excessive thousands of dark skinned people a year.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 16, 2012 9:09:40 PM

The difference, MikeinCT, is that Hastings is making an economic argument (as are a few others opposing the DP) and then spending (and, I think wasting) money to make this economic argument when for most voters a moral feeling drives their DP opinions. In some setting (and I wish many more), basic information about economics of an issue can and should make a difference to voters. But I am not sure this is likely to be true in the DP setting, and it seems especially foolish to spend a lot of money to try to convince people via ads to think about spending money more wisely.

Instead, just spend this money on the social use you wish money was going to if, in fact, this was all about just dollars and cents. But, as I mean to imply, I think a lot more is going on in the debate and this reality is what drives lots of people to feel like they should spend money telling voters how they think money should be spent.

Posted by: Doug B. | Sep 16, 2012 9:59:26 PM

Doug --

I think the basic problem is that, if these millionaire contributors have sufficient funds to finance the highly worthy cause of educating the kids of murder victims, they should be willing to do so irrespective of whether Prop 34 passes. To make their education depend on the referendum's outcome seems somewhere between peevishness and extortion.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 16, 2012 10:40:14 PM

Or maybe we could use some of the money spent on the DP to increase the homicide clear rate. In most states its only about 50%. I never understand why that isn't a bigger issue. Those who want us to be tough on crime emphasize how harsh punishments should be, but don't seem equally concerned that in most places half the murderers walk away scott free.

Posted by: anonymous | Sep 16, 2012 10:57:02 PM

It's far more than half. Clearing the case is not nearly the same thing as someone landing in prison. Usually, it just means the police have found a suspect and hand the case off to the DA.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Sep 17, 2012 12:17:59 AM

Anon: The police is discouraged. They spend weeks investigating a murder in a minority hood. They find the guy, but he has been murdered too. Why bother? One is a slow shuffling government worker anyway. The police is the agent of the prosecution. The incompetence and laziness is from top to bottom. Nothing in law school teaches a culture of achieving public safety, just prostitution art is taught, being able to switch sides at the drop of a retainer.

Once a murderer has gone to prison, he should spend his time being water boarded to solve all his murders.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 17, 2012 2:34:37 AM

Doug, it's moral preening. That's why they do it.

Posted by: federalist | Sep 17, 2012 10:14:22 AM

This blog is mindless blather.

Posted by: Greta | Sep 17, 2012 10:30:25 AM

Doug --

I think Greta doesn't like your blog.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 17, 2012 3:27:55 PM

Speaking of $.

O.C. police union dispute brings scrutiny of law firm's tactics

By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times

September 16, 2012

One after another, people stepped before the Costa Mesa City Council to decry the blight and lawlessness on tiny Ford Road — prostitutes, thieves, home invaders. What the city needs, they pleaded, is more cops.

Councilman Jim Righeimer, a GOP activist and an architect of the city's controversial plan to radically slash its workforce, perceived the parade of concerned citizens as the pawns of a police union and its law firm, with its statewide reputation for bare-knuckle tactics.

"This City Council is being held hostage by the police union," Righeimer railed from his seat at the Aug. 21 meeting. "This council will not be shaken down."


Until recently, the website featured a detailed list of "tools" that police associations can employ to push decision-makers "into giving in to your position."

"The association should be like a quiet giant in the position of, 'Do as I ask and don't piss me off,'" the website read.

"Storm city council," the site suggested, to chastise uncooperative elected leaders. Campaign against them. Send attack mailers. Picket. Take out newspaper ads. Launch websites denouncing the city. Use "every high profile crime" to argue that more cops could have prevented it. Pay for billboards.

"Nothing seems to get more attention than a billboard entering the city limits which reads that crime is up and the City could care less about your safety," the site said.

Posted by: Anon1000 | Sep 17, 2012 9:37:58 PM

in Calif they spent 300-350 millions dollars for every execution. Does someone has an idea on how to spend such a money ?

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 18, 2012 12:56:51 PM

Claudio --

"Does someone has an idea on how to spend such a money?"

A good chunk of it goes to defense lawyers. Look, those vacation homes in Malibu are expensive.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 18, 2012 1:40:44 PM

Doug B:

I think it more than a bit weird how they are coming up with the cost figures.

Take a look.

Response to Absurd California Death Penalty Cost "Study"

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Sep 18, 2012 1:58:12 PM

Perhaps they should spend the money on English lessons for Claudio though, sadly, it still might not be enough to actually help him.

A proposito, Claudianco, si scrive: "Does anyone have an idea on how to spend such money?" oppure, ed anche meglio, "Does anyone have an idea on how to spend such an amount?"

Posted by: alpino | Sep 18, 2012 1:58:50 PM

The 729 convicted murderers on death row were convicted of brutally killing at least 1,279 people. At least 230 of them were children. 75 more were young adults between the ages of 18-20. Another 82 victims were older than 65.

Of these victims, at least 211 of them were raped and 319 of them robbed. Sixty-six victims were killed in execution style, usually bound and shot in the back of the head. Forty-seven victims were tortured.

Forty-three of these victims were law enforcement agents and another seven were security guards. Not included in these numbers are cases where the killer attempted to kill a police officer, but was unsuccessful, as in the case of Oswaldo Amezcua who shot three police officers.

An important consideration in changing a killer’s sentence to life is whether he has murdered other inmates while incarcerated. Eleven death sentences were handed down after an already-incarcerated inmate murdered another inmate. Troy Ashmus had previously killed an inmate and viciously attacked a deputy while incarcerated for another crime. Joseph Barrett killed an inmate while incarcerated for having killed a teacher. Kenneth Bivert killed an inmate while already incarcerated on three counts of murder. John Capistrano had a previous conviction for killing an inmate and attacked another inmate in a holding cell. Joseph Danks was already incarcerated for six murders when he killed the inmate which led to his death sentence. Martin Drews was also serving time for murder when he killed an inmate. Similarly, Lee Capers brought a knife to court to stab one of the witnesses testifying against him. These facts would have been important to the jurors who sentenced these killers to death. They should be considered before we abolish the death penalty and place these killers in shared cells and provide them work opportunities.

While the murders for which these killers were sentenced to death are horrendous, the murder victims are only a part of the trail of violence left by these killers. Many had killed others before finally being sentenced to death for their most recent killing. Others are suspected to have killed dozens more. For example, Randy Kraft is believed to have killed at least 65 other people. Another serial killer Glen Rogers was convicted of killing three other people in three other states and confessed to his sister he was responsible for more than 70 killings. Lawrence Bittaker is suspected to have raped and murdered another 30-40 victims in addition to the five for which he was sentenced to death. Charles Ng, while convicted for murdering eleven people, is suspected to have killed up to 25 people. Wesley Shermantine is believed to have killed 25 people even though only convicted for four. This year he has began leading law enforcement to more bodies. More than twenty additional murders have been attributed to Cleamon Johnson. Police suspect William Suff murdered twenty woman in addition to the twelve for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. Michael Allen is believed to have killed 12-20 more people in addition to the two he was sentenced to die for. Franklin Lynch was linked to more than thirteen additional murders. David Carpenter was believed to have killed another 7-11 victims. Anh Duong was suspected of having committed 7 murders and 15 armed robberies. Kevin Haley was suspected in seven other homicides. Dennis Webb admitted to five additional murders. Steven Homick has also been sentenced to death in Nevada for 3 murders. Malcolm Robbins admitted to or was convicted of killing four additional minors. Thus, these individuals alone are responsible for approximately another 300 murders.

Posted by: Chris Bernstien | Sep 18, 2012 2:21:19 PM

Every year in California there are more than 1.000 unsolved murders, but they prefer spend 150 millions every years in the death penalty.
Every one of the 13 californian executions cost 350 million dollars.
Sorry, but D Sharp is wrong as always

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 18, 2012 3:24:51 PM

suspected, linked, was believed, admitted, confessed, attributed, all executive branch findings and all in the support of the executive branch members against Proposition 34.

Posted by: Anon1000 | Sep 18, 2012 10:50:17 PM

Claudio once again spouts out a phony "either-or" proposition. According to him (even if he doesn't believe it), either we have the death penalty or we solve a thousand murders. As if we couldn't possibly do both at the same time, could we?

That $350 million figure sounds bogus to me. In any case, as Kent Scheidegger and Bill Otis have pointed out on numerous occasions, there are many ways to drastically reduce what it costs per execution while still ensuring constitutional due process.

Once more, I ask you, Claudio, do you think it's morally justifiable to distort the truth and/or outright lie in order to achieve the abolition of the death penalty in the United States?

Posted by: alpino | Sep 19, 2012 12:50:33 AM

If there are liars in the death penalty argument they are not in my side

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 19, 2012 3:44:47 AM

Once more, I ask you, Claudio, do you think it's morally justifiable to distort the truth and/or outright lie in order to achieve the abolition of the death penalty in the United States?

Posted by: alpino | Sep 19, 2012 4:07:36 AM


I have presnted my cost case with the facts. If you can counter my facts, do so.

You can't.

You appear confused by the $300-350 million per execution.

Those cases didn't cost that much. They may have cost $2-$4 million/case.

Yes, too much, I agree.

The $300-$350 million places all of the costs of every case ever sent to death row, in the modern era, and adds the cost of all death row cases to only those few cases of execution.

It is the same as saying every life without parole case costs $500 million, because you add all the costs of the 40,000 prioners serving life without parole and place all of those costs only onto those LWOP cases where the inmate died.

It is quite deceptive, intentionally.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Sep 19, 2012 7:07:04 AM

I am afraid Alpino cannot understand anything.
Anyway, I see distortions only in the retentionist side.
Sharp’s funny math for example.
If you need ten bids to obtain a death sentence the cost is “take one, pay ten”. In California this means (30 years of death penalty at 150 million per year) a “take 13, pay 4.500.000.000”.
in Ohio the cost of a death sentence is 4-5 million and the cost of an execution 40-50 million.
On the other side life costs nothing.
2.500.000 prisoners cost 70 billion per year as 70 billion per year cost 2.501.300 prisoners.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 19, 2012 9:48:44 AM

So, Claudio has, I suppose, answered my question. He is willing to lie and twist the truth in order to attain his goal.

By the way, Claudio, your last post makes absolutely no sense at all. It's utterly incoherent.

Posted by: alpino | Sep 19, 2012 12:39:41 PM

You need to change psychiatrist

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 19, 2012 3:05:53 PM

You need to learn English. You should've written: "You need to change psychiatrists."

Posted by: alpino | Sep 19, 2012 4:04:14 PM

you are a very sick man. Ask for help.

Posted by: Claudio GiustiI | Sep 19, 2012 4:12:15 PM

Claudio, there is no need to engage in ad hominem attacks. They are hardly befitting your lofty stature as a hero to America's most heinous murderers.

Posted by: alpino | Sep 20, 2012 3:32:13 AM

If money can really buy elections, the death penalty will be dead in California

Posted by: Wholesale Snapback Hats | Nov 28, 2012 10:18:29 PM

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