Smart Justice California has given $25 million to progressive lawmakers and prosecutors as crime spikes across the state
Four wealthy California wives invested more than $1 million last year in the left-wing makeover of the Golden State’s justice system, their latest filings show, even as some leading Democrats in the state grow leery of soft-on-crime reforms.
Smart Justice California formed as a political funding vehicle for Patty Quillin, wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Quinn Delaney, wife of Bay Area real estate developer Wayne Jordan, Elizabeth Simons, daughter of a hedge fund billionaire, and Kaitlyn Krieger, wife of Instagram co-founder Michael Krieger. Over the last year the group focused its cash on anti-incarceration prosecutors, state officials, and lawmakers who have pushed soft-on-crime policies, including lighter criminal punishments, avenues for more lenient re-sentencing, and emptying prisons. Delaney in 2023 made her political contributions separately from Smart Justice California, in a change from previous years. Her biography on the website for her foundation says she is involved with the group in an advisory capacity.
Liberal legislators have credited the organization as a major boost for California’s progressive criminal justice reforms. All told, the group has poured more than $25 million into the criminal justice reform cause since 2018. The group says it “incentivizes” state policymakers “to support an array of transformative criminal justice policy changes,” while also “helping to change the belief that prosecutors must be incarceration-driven” by “establishing a statewide candidate pipeline of justice reform champions.”
But this latest cash infusion comes as Democratic lawmakers sour on the soft-on-crime agenda. A majority of residents are upset about crime after California’s rapid turnaround from a tough-on-crime state to national poster child for retail theft and violence. While pollsters haven’t gauged the public’s views on the state’s reforms, San Franciscans ousted their former progressive district attorney Chesa Boudin last year while Oakland residents are threatening their own DA with a recall. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’s George Gascón is losing support ahead of his reelection bid and his city recently poured an extra $1 billion into cops’ salaries three years after slashing police funding.
Smart Justice California’s top recipients for 2023 included the state’s attorney general Rob Bonta, who has made it a priority to investigate police and sue conservative school districts over transgender policies. They gave him more than $49,000 last year, primarily through Smart Justice California. His wife Mia Bonta, a state assemblywoman for Oakland who last year unilaterally killed a bill to raise penalties for violent crimes committed with guns while proposing for politicians to use campaign funds on private security, raked in $27,500.
Pamela Price, Oakland’s progressive district attorney who has presided over spikes in lawlessness and crime, received $29,000 to help fend off a voter-backed recall.
More than $27,000 went to polling on behalf of the Justice and Public Safety PAC, whose primary funder is billionaire George Soros and whose California affiliate has contributed to Smart Justice California in the past. Progressive assemblyman Isaac Bryan, who helped kill legislation to classify child sex trafficking as a serious crime before public outcry forced a re-do, received $22,000.
Some $30,000 went to a committee called Safe and Accountable San Francisco, which is a new funding vehicle for two San Francisco judges under fire for releasing repeat criminals. The Smart Justice fundraising consultant did not respond to a request for comment.
Delaney, Simons, and Krieger did not respond to requests for comment submitted through their foundations and organizations. The Washington Free Beacon was not able to reach Quillin directly. Smart Justice California’s press representative likewise did not respond.
Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón, who received more than $3.5 million from Quillin, Delaney, Simons, and Krieger for his 2020 run, collected just $7,500 in 2023—although he will likely ramp up fundraising for this year’s reelection bid over the next few months as he faces a crowded field of challengers.
Smart Justice California is managed by former San Francisco public defender Anne Irwin and operates under the legal auspices of Tides Advocacy—a branch of the deep-pocketed left-wing Tides network, which is based in San Francisco and fosters and funds progressive activism and liberal causes. Tides did not respond to a request for comment.
While Quillin, Delaney, Simons, and Krieger have been its primary sponsors, Smart Justice California has drawn contributions from other prominent figures, including film director Steven Spielberg and Oklahoma billionaire Lynn Schusterman.
While Smart Justice California has primarily focused its cash on elections since its founding, last year it launched a Sacramento lobbying operation led by the CEO of Tides Advocacy—spending about $200,000 to influence policy. The organization supported a list of bills, such as failed proposals to ban medical drug and alcohol screening of pregnant and post-birth women or their newborns without informed consent; and on warrantless searches of people who agree to police inspections. The group also lobbied for more public defender funding and for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to transform San Quentin prison into a rehabilitation center.