Wealthy siblings become forces in Calif. politics

Associated Press Modified: October 26, 2012 at 8:01 pm •  Published: October 26, 2012
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Charles Munger Sr. is best known as Warren Buffett's right-hand man, an investor who has turned his skill at picking winning companies into a billion-dollar fortune.

He has passed some of his passion on to his children, two of whom are using their considerable fortune to transform California's political landscape this year.

While Molly Munger and her half brother, Charles Jr., are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, both have thrown up significant roadblocks to Gov. Jerry Brown's ballot initiative seeking to balance the state budget through raising taxes.

Republican Charles Munger Jr., a Stanford physicist, has given $35 million to defeat Brown's initiative, which would raise the state sales tax and increase income taxes on the wealthy, and to support a ballot measure that would undercut public employee unions.

His sister has also attacked Brown's initiative, pushing her own ballot measure that would increase income tax rates for nearly all taxpayers and send the money directly to school districts, bypassing the Legislature. She has spent more than $33 million.

A poll released this week shows her Proposition 38 and Brown's Proposition 30 without majority support.

Both Mungers are relative newcomers to California's political scene. They have generally shied away from the spotlight, even as Brown's supporters labeled them the "billionaire bullies" seeking to destroy California's public schools. If voters reject his initiative, Brown has said the state will enact $6 billion in automatic cuts, mostly to K-12.

The siblings are almost universally described by those who have worked with them as driven and intensely focused — millionaires who ask a lot of questions before they commit to a cause.

California Common Cause, a good-government group, partnered with Charles Munger Jr. on its successful effort to create an independent citizens redistricting commission that would draw state legislative and congressional districts based on the once-a-decade census.

The group's president, Kathay Feng, called it an "excruciatingly long" process answering the detailed, methodical questions he had before agreeing to commit.

He was so thorough he eventually became an expert on the myriad intricacies of redistricting law, she said.

"I think that his approach probably mirrors the way he operates as a nuclear physicist," she said. "He takes something and dissects it and approaches it from 10 different directions before he makes a conclusion about what the best route forward is."

Munger Jr. is a research associate with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University, a research lab devoted to experimental and theoretical research in advanced physics.

While he has drawn scrutiny for his multimillion-dollar contributions to two of the highest profile initiatives on the ballot, he also is the primary contributor to Proposition 40, which would keep in place the new state Senate districts that Republicans opposed.

Like her brother, Molly Munger has shown an affinity for researching complex issues. In a PowerPoint presentation to the California State PTA last year, she demonstrated a detailed knowledge of the state's complicated education finance system.



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