The campaign to pass California’s Proposition 47—which enacted sweeping sentencing reforms for people convicted of nonviolent offenses—highlights the influence that 501(c)(4) organizations can have on public policy. This case study explores the drivers behind this victory in the movement to end mass incarceration.
In 2014, California’s Proposition 47 passed, ushering in sweeping reforms in criminal sentencing for those convicted of low-level offenses. The measure reclassified multiple categories of nonviolent drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The estimated $500 million to $750 million in savings over five years will go to funding for schools, victim services, and mental health and drug treatment. The campaign’s success represents a pivotal victory in the movement to end mass incarceration as well as a compelling case study in the power of 501(c)(4) organizations to transform statewide policy. This report chronicles the passage of Proposition 47 and underscores key strengths about 501(c)(4) campaigns for funders, including their potential to attract bipartisan support and their capacity to engage and empower underrepresented communities in the political process. The success of Proposition 47 highlighted the scale of lobbying resources needed to run a successful ballot campaign. Given the effectiveness of such vehicles, there is a critical need for increased investment in 501(c)(4) by institutional donors. Arabella Advisors believes there is enormous potential for individual and family donors to make an outsize impact through 501(c)(4) investments.