The California initiative on Tuesday’s ballot to reduce penalties for illicit drug use and petty theft is part of a multimillion-dollar campaign to revise sentencing laws in California and across the nation, reports the Los Angeles Times. Five major foundations, headlined by a group run by billionaire George Soros, have poured millions of dollars to push for changes in California’s policies on crime and imprisonment. The campaign is aimed at shaping public opinion, media coverage, research and grass-roots activism on the issue. Proposition 47 would reclassify possession of heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, and theft of $950 or less, as misdemeanors. If the measure passes, California will become the first state to “de-felonize” all drug use, opening the door for similar efforts in other states.
“We hope we’re setting a precedent for the nation,” said Lynne Lyman of the National Drug Policy Alliance, a supporter of Proposition 47. “We are hoping it will signal that we don’t need to be so tough on crime all the time.” Proponents of the ballot measure have raised $9 million — at least $2 million of which came from two of the foundations — for their campaign. Opponents have raised just $526,000. Coordination by a few wealthy foundations to change public policy represents a legitimate but worrying form of political influence, said Robert McGuire of the Center for Responsive Politics. Nonprofits are allowed to do this, but voters have a right to know what interest is trying to get them to vote a certain way,” he said.