When asked by prospective employers to describe my life’s work, I generally say that I have toiled as a writer on the extreme fringes of the entertainment industry, and most of that in New York. I’m far more familiar with the fantasies peddled by the world of movies and the theater than the one that was being sold this year to Californians by a consortium of billionaires, religious cranks, hedge-fund managers and libertarian extremists bent on financially kneecapping California labor out of the state’s political picture.
Yet when Frying Pan News offered me an election-season gig as a Prop. 32 research assistant to investigative reporter Matthew Fleischer, I didn’t hesitate. I mean, I was no less qualified to look into the issue than the average voter.
No sooner did I begin to track down Prop. 32′s backers than they began emerging as a virtual Who’s Who of the same well-heeled special interests that their initiative was promising to weed out: Bizarre, bow-tied mad-scientist types, like the Berkshire Hathaway-billions heir and physicist, Charles Munger Jr., who dropped a cool $36 million of his unearned cash onto the measure; or the fundamentalist Christian extremist, Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. of the Home Savings Ahmansons, a zealot who was once quoted as declaring, “My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives,” and who set about that goal by, in addition to Prop. 32, bankrolling 2008’s biblically proportioned, homophobic Proposition 8; or millionaire and fellow Prop. 8 minion Larry T. Smith, who with his Family Action PAC, openly advocates for a parent’s right to subject a sexually suspect child to “gay conversion” therapy; or the seemingly endless list of innocuous-sounding, education-for-profit fund managers, salivating over the $38 billion California still spends each year to guarantee all children a desk in the state’s K-12 public schools.
As I worked my way down the list, a line from the 1967 Robert Aldrich action classic, The Dirty Dozen, kept echoing in my mind. It’s from the scene where army psychiatrist Ralph Meeker gives his psychological assessment of the movie’s titular commando team to Major Lee Marvin. The report, he tells Marvin, “gives you just about the most twisted, anti-social bunch of psychopathic deformities I have ever run into! And the worst, the most dangerous of the bunch, is Maggott. You’ve got one religious maniac, one malignant dwarf, two near-idiots… and the rest I don’t even wanna think about!”
I had my own ideas on which names constituted Prop 32’s religious maniacs, malignant dwarves and near-idiots. But which of the backers was the Maggott of the bunch? It would turn out to be a trick question as the answer didn’t literally appear on the list.
The missing pieces began falling into place with mid-September’s headline that a $4 million slush pile dumped onto the Yes on 32 campaign probably originated with the billionaire Koch brothers. Then, in the final weeks of the election, a second, $11 million shoe of dark money dropped onto Yes on 32/No on 30 campaigns. It took legal action by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission to trace the cash back to its likely source — the Kochs.
But why would a pair of out-of-state Maggotts like the Kochs be hiding in the Prop. 32 woodpile? Since they haven’t officially owned up to the $15 million pair of checks, one must assume that secret money equates with secret motives.
Perhaps the motive of another movie-world malefactor will suffice as an answer. In John Huston’s 1948 film noir, Key Largo, the hero, Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), and the movie’s hotelier hostage, James Temple (Lionel Barrymore), face off against Edward G. Robinson’s deported psychopathic gangster, Johnny Rocco:
McCloud: He wants more, don’t you, Rocco?
Rocco: Yeah. That’s it. More. That’s right! I want more!
Temple: Will you ever get enough?
McCloud: Will you, Rocco?
Rocco: Well, I never have. No, I guess I won’t.