In this photo taken Feb. 22, 2008, Charles Munger Jr. of Santa Clara, a major donor to Proposition 32 on the California ballot is seen at the California Republican Party convention in San Francisco.  Munger, the son of wealthy investor Charles Munger Sr., is on the opposite side of the political isle as her half sister, Molly Munger, a wealthy civil rights attorney  who is major donor behind Proposition 38, which increase taxes for education. Both Mungers have spent millions in this election year to transform California's political landscape.  (AP Photo/Sacramento Bee, Brian Baer)

Charles Munger Jr., pictured in 2008. (Brian Baer / Associated Press)

By Michael Finnegan and Maloy Moore
April 4, 2015

A month after Charles Munger Jr. wrote his first $100,000 check to a political campaign, he got a taste of the chronic rejection familiar to California’s big Republican donors: The 2005 ballot measure he backed lost by a landslide.

Yet Munger, the son of a billionaire, went on to spend almost $78 million on scores of other campaigns.

The spending by the Palo Alto physicist has thrust him into an unlikely role for a man whose occupation is to research the fine points of protons and electrons: He is a central force in the Republican Party’s attempted comeback from its two-decade slide in California.

“If it weren’t for Charles Munger, the California Republican Party would have been driven into the sea at this point,” said Kevin Spillane, a GOP strategist.

A courtly academic who fancies bow ties and suspenders, Munger, 58, spent more than $11 million last year to help put Republicans in Congress and the Legislature, making him by far the state party’s biggest benefactor. His funding of Latino, female and moderate candidates has been crucial to the party’s effort to shed its image as a league of conservative white men.

Munger’s spending on ballot measures illuminates other priorities. He has tried to block tax hikes, diminish the power of labor unions and stop lawmakers from drafting election maps to their liking.

The scale of Munger’s spending has drawn scorn from adversaries. The state Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating Democrats’ allegations that Munger skirted donation limits last year by funneling money through the state party to favored candidates.

“There’s a lot of smoke there,” said Lance Olson, a Democratic Party lawyer.

Munger declined to be interviewed. “My actions speak louder than any words I could give you,” he said in an email.

Labor leaders fault Munger not just for backing ballot measures that would have hindered unions’ spending on politics, but also for fighting Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012 measure to raise taxes and avert cuts in, among other things, public schools. Munger, who served four years on a state curriculum panel, has lamented the quality of public education in California.

“You can’t profess to care about the education of children, and then spend millions of dollars to ensure that the funding for those children is never realized,” said Willie Pelote Sr., who oversees California political affairs for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Munger, a former Santa Clara County Republican Party chairman, has made enemies within his own party too, in part by bankrolling moderates in primaries against conservatives.

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