Despite Silicon Valley executives’ expectation they could lead a national effort to abolish the death penalty by funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into a California initiative, law enforcement and conservatives have raised cash to defend the death penalty, and appear headed for victory.
Silicon Valley likes to refer to itself as the home of “socially conscious” capitalism. That explains why they are prime contributors to Democrats and state ballot measures regarding education, health, the environment and “social justice.”
Silicon Valley’ social justice warriors point to 101 of the planet’s 195 countries having abolished the death penalty outright.
But although the 607 executions carried out in 22 countries in 2014 was down almost 22 percent compared to 2013, the horrific rise in terrorism sparked a 169 percent jump in state-authorized executions to at least 1,634 in 2015 – the highest recorded by Amnesty International since 1989. The state of California has the highest number of death row inmates in the U.S., but only ranks 17th in number of executions actually carried out.
Given this international counter-trend, and Silicon Valley’s expectation of waning public support for California death penalty laws that date back to the Criminal Practices Act of 1851, a small cadre of tech leaders have shoveled out over $4.2 million of the $7.2 million raised to pass Proposition 62, which would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. That same funding drive is also opposing Proposition 66, which would speed up carrying out death sentences by limiting how, and how many times, death row inmates can appeal their convictions.
Nicholas McKeown, a computer science professor at Stanford University and founder of 4 tech companies, told the Los Angeles Times, “It feels like now the time is right,” because, “public opinion has changed a lot, and there’s also the general sense that we need to bring about that change in California so that it sweeps across the country to the Supreme Court and nationwide.” He has donated $437,500 and is joined by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who has given $250,000.
Other top Silicon Valley financial donors that are calling the death penalty a failed policy include Robert Eustace, former vice president of knowledge at Google; and Apple co-founder’s wife Laurene Powell Jobs, whose non-profit Emerson Collective advocates for an agenda on education, immigration reform and environmental conversation. Paul Graham, CEO of start-up incubator Y Combinator; top Valley venture capitalist John Doerr; and former hedge fund CEO and now environmental warrior Tom Steyer have also written hefty checks.
U.S. public support for capital punishment peaked nationwide in the mid-1990s, when 80 percent of Americans favored the death penalty in murder cases. But national support has fallen to 49% and opposition has risen to 42 percent, the lowest support for capital punishment in more than four decades, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center.
California voters last refused to abolish the death penalty through a similar measure to Proposition 62 on the 2012 ballot. Despite huge checks from Silicon Valley in that effort, law enforcement and conservatives pushed back hard in a get-out-the-vote effort that resulted in 52 percent of voters rejecting abolition.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and his Silicon Valley fellow travelers have tried to sway the vote this time by claiming that Prop 62 could save the state about $150 million over a couple of years. But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has stated that number could vary by tens of millions of dollars.
Police associations, prosecutors and sheriffs have been especially effective at fighting Prop 62 this year by raising $4.3 million in donations to support Prop 66 and defeat 62. Supported by a growing grass-roots effort, they are highlighting the thousand victims, including 226 children and 294 raped and tortured women, whose assailants who have not been executed because of the Brown administration’s delay tactics.
Recent polls by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times find that more than half of California voters are against Prop 62 abolishing the death penalty in the state, and only 40 percent support the measure. Proposition 66, which would require initial appeals to be quickly heard in trial courts, and establishing new deadlines for final appeals, sees to have similar support.