Courage Campaign Success Stories

Raising Revenue: The Millionaires Tax of 2012

Smart and Principled: The Remarkable Success of the Millionaires Tax of 2012

For eight months, a coalition of progressive groups joined forces in their determination to raise revenue for the Golden State by the most progressive means possible. Our work gave legal voice to the 99% movement through a ballot initiative: the Millionaires Tax of 2012. In the end, we combined our measure with a more regressive measure proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new initiative will raise some 90% of its funds from the top 1.2% of California earners, an impressively progressive accomplishment in any context. Not only that, but our coalition remained completely unified in our pursuit of a collective goal bigger than those of any individual organization. This was –- and is — about building the progressive movement in California, and it signals a new era of progressive leadership from outside Sacramento.

What we did:



















  • We built a tax initiative based on a reading of the political moment and mountains of data. The coalition commissioned two polls and 16 focus groups to determine the surest route to raising revenue in California. By sharing our research with the governor and civil rights attorney Molly Munger, we influenced the debate before we even filed our initiative. Both the governor’s initial proposal and Munger’s ballot initiative raised their rates on the wealthiest Californians based on our data.
  • Due to careful application of our research, the Millionaires Tax polled astronomically well, even after being subjected to the strongest attacks. Once unveiled, it received more support than all other income tax proposals in 7 consecutive polls conducted by the most respected research firms in California.
  • Immediately after filing the initiative, the Courage Campaign spent $1000 to produce a short, viral video highlighting Kim Kardashian’s tax rate as compared to a middle-class Californian. Tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, the video exploded in popularity. It made international news and was covered by more than 500 outlets, including ABC World News, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Forbes, and every major newspaper in California. It reached beyond the traditional audience for political news and brought into the conversation those more interested in pop culture.
  • In less than a week, the Courage Campaign designed and built a professional website for the initiative, with full social media integration. A quick glance at other initiative sites shows how remarkable is in comparison. Our website acted as an intuitive, attractive, all purpose hub of information for media, supporters, and coalition partners. Reporters had easy access to every press release, chart, or piece of data released by the campaign. Supporters were able to find downloadable petitions for signature gathering, rebuttals of attacks, and timely answers to any question emailed to the campaign. Partners could download any piece of campaign collateral they required, harvest language for use in talking points or presentations, and check the status of endorsements.
  • Rather than hold a press conference as most campaigns would, the Millionaires Tax launched its campaign by “occupying freeways” all over the state. Activists deployed banners on overpasses during the morning commute, earning substantial media coverage in every major market.
  • Once the campaign had received its title and summary from the Attorney General, the signature gathering campaign was launched with four simultaneous press conferences blanketing the state: in Fresno, Oakland, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Google millionaire Frank Jernigan, a Courage Campaign member from well before the campaign, was a featured speaker in Oakland. He movingly articulated his journey, living as a member of the 99% for the first 59 years of his life before suddenly joining the 1%. He passionately declared that the minor cost he and other millionaires would pay under the plan were well worth their benefit to California.
  • Respect for the Millionaires Tax took a dramatic leap after our impressive showing at the California Democratic Convention in San Diego. Our team showed up with vast quantities of buttons, stickers, flyers, and even a few banners. Thanks to passionate activists and savvy organizing, the Millionaires Tax was everywhere. Van Jones, the inspirational progressive leader, gave a high profile, public endorsement of the initiative, saying “This Millionaires Tax they’re talking about? It could ignite a generation.” Governor Brown then appeared to blink during his speech to convention delegates, side-stepping the issue of tax initiatives, and telling the convention delegates: “You’ll get your marching orders soon.” The media pounced, and from that moment on, Sacramento finally realized that Millionaires Tax was not going away.
  • Through diligent recruitment and communication, 83 different community and labor organizations across the state officially endorsed the Millionaires Tax, from faith-based groups like PICO and CLUE, to online organizations like and CREDO, to community-based organizations like the Senior Action Network and Jobs with Justice.
  • On March 5th, 10,000 students marched on Sacramento to protest cuts to the University of California, California State University, and community college systems. When Sacramento politicians tried to mollify them with speeches promoting the governor’s regressive tax initiative, the students spontaneously replied with chants of “Millionaires Tax, Millionaires Tax.” The Millionaires Tax was the only proposed initiative to guarantee funding for higher education.
  • In the end, the Millionaires Tax withdrew in favor of a compromise with Gov. Brown. The benefits of unity were many, and the resulting measure will now raise some 90% of its revenue from the top 1.2% of California earners, in comparison with 64% of the Governor’s previous initiative. This is a concrete victory for the 99% movement and progressives throughout California. A campaign that was at first laughed at, forced Sacramento insiders to radically revise their plans. A smart, principled progressive movement can build on these accomplishments and begin a new era of leadership in California politics.