With less than two weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, the battle over Proposition 34, the proposed ban of the death penalty in California, appears to be tightening, and its proponents are raising the stakes.
Yes on Prop. 34, the campaign to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, create a $100 million fund to investigate rape and murder cases and require inmates to work and pay restitution to victims or their families, launched a $2 million radio and TV ad campaign this week.
In doing so, Prop. 34 backers hope to make the case that capital punishment in California is a waste of taxpayer money, citing the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimate that the state could save as much as $130 million a year if the death penalty is abolished. No inmate has been executed since early 2006, when a federal judge ordered a moratorium because of questions about lethal injection protocol. That moratorium remains in place, and Prop. 34 proponents also cite a former appeals court judge's 2011 study that found that since 1978 capital punishment has cost California about $4 billion.
All male Death Row inmates in California are housed at Marin's San Quentin State Prison, where executions were carried out until the moratorium.
A new prop-34 TV ad in major California media markets also argues that the death penalty often prevents the wrongfully convicted from seeking justice.
"We know it is a close race," said Erin Mellon, spokesperson for the Yes on 34 campaign. "On this issue, people are split pretty much down the middle with a very small number of undecided voters that both sides are obviously trying to cater to."
As both sides reach out to those undeciced voters, Prop. 34's proponents have considerably more resources to wield. The campaign has raised nearly $7 million as of Oct. 16, much of which has come from Hyatt Development Corp. billionaire Nicholas Pritzker, the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, according to MapLight's VotersEdge campaign finance tool.
Despite its vast fundraising lead, the Yes on Prop. 34 campaign has faced an uphill battle in swaying public opinion about the death penalty, but recent polls have indicated the race is tightening.
While a Sept. 30 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found voters against Prop. 34 51 percent to 38 percent, an Oct. 11 poll conducted by the California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University showed that margin narrowing to 48 percent to 43 percent.
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