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Retired insurance company executive throws cash and support behind Prop. 19

October 16, 2010 |  5:36 pm

Peter B. Lewis, a retired insurance company executive, has donated $209,005 to the campaign to pass Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure on California's Nov. 2 ballot.

The contributions -- to the main campaign committee as well as an independent one -- make Lewis the biggest contributor to the effort after Richard Lee, the Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur who sponsored the measure and has spent more than $1.5 million .

“I’m supporting the campaign because I support common-sense reform of the nation’s drug laws,” Lewis said Saturday in a statement. “I admire the effort, energy and commitment of the people involved in the campaign, and want to help them get their message out to the voters.”

The campaign began attracting some larger donations in the last two weeks after a Public Policy Institute of California poll of 1,104 likely voters showed the initiative with 52% support.

Sean Parker, a Facebook billionaire, donated $100,000 at the beginning of the month. And David Bronner, the president of Escondido-based Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, joined with the owners of a hemp clothing store to pledge $100,000 to get college students to vote for the initiative.

The No on 19 campaign has lagged in contributions. Its largest donation reported so far this month is $25,000 from Sebastian Musco, the chairman of Santa Ana-based Gemini Industries, which recovers precious metals used in petroleum processing.

The chief executive of The Progressive Corp. for 35 years and now its chairman, Lewis built the Mayfield Village, Ohio, company into one of the nation’s largest auto insurers.

Lewis and a handful of wealthy businessmen have bankrolled California’s drug-related initiatives, but so far most have skipped this campaign. In 1996, Lewis donated $500,000 to Proposition 215, the measure that made California the first to approve the use of marijuana for medical treatment. And in 2000 he donated more than $1 million to Proposition 36, which allows some nonviolent drug offenders to be sentenced to treatment rather than prison.

Lewis gave $50,000 to the Yes on 19 committee and $159,005 to the Drug Policy Action Committee, an independent committee controlled by the Drug Policy Alliance.

-- John Hoeffel