$300 Million Price Tag on Initiative Battles
Unions, drug firms biggest spenders
Thirty contributors have bankrolled nearly two-thirds of the estimated $300 million that will be spent on Tuesday's special election.
The high rollers include unions, drug companies, business groups and individuals that have pumped $1 million apiece or more -- often much more -- into the initiative battle called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Led by the $56.6 million spent by the California Teachers Association, these contributors have raised more than $189 million for an off-year election no one expected.
"It's an unprecedented amount of money that violates the intent of all the campaign spending laws," said Joe Cerrell, a longtime Democratic consultant. "It's just crazy."
The combined spending of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Republican challenger Bill Simon in the 2002 gubernatorial election was about $98 million.
But California campaign finance laws set limits for candidates, not for ballot measures, which is why Schwarzenegger can put in $7.25 million of his own money to back propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77, and unions can spend $100 million to fight them.
"We had no choice but to get involved," said Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association. "Three of the initiatives -- Prop. 74 (teacher tenure), Prop. 75 (public employee union dues) and Prop. 76 (government spending) -- go straight to our members, public education and our students."
Kerr's group isn't the only big spender in the fight against the governor's package of initiatives. The California State Council of Service Employees has put up $16.1 million, while SEIU Local 1000 added $4.1 million. Overall, eight unions are in this election's million-dollar club.
Some of that union money has gone to the Alliance for a Better California, which has raised $34 million to fight the governor's initiatives. The California Democratic Party has collected an additional $10 million for the anti-Schwarzenegger effort.
While the unions and their Democratic allies are the leading spenders in the initiative battle, the money war is no walkover. Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team and Citizens to Save California, both tightly linked to the governor, have raised a combined $49 million, while the California Republican Party added $13 million.
"The only silver lining to the spending is that it isn't all one-sided," said Bob Stern, a campaign finance expert who heads the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "In most of the initiatives, both sides have enough money to get their story in front of the public."
That's not the case with Propositions 78 and 79, dueling efforts to cut the cost of prescription drugs for low-income Californians. Eleven of the state's biggest donors this year are drug companies, who have raised more than $80 million to pass Prop. 78 and defeat Prop. 79.
The consumer groups backing Prop. 79 have collected about $500,000, which isn't enough to match their opponents' onslaught of television advertising.
While 30 contributors have put in $1 million or more, dozens more are making six-figure donations. Since January, more than 175 groups and individuals have handed out contributions of at least $100,000, and more is coming in every day.
Redistrict California, a group backing the Prop. 77 redistricting plan, has raised about $5.7 million of its $6.7 million war chest from contributions of $100,000 or more. It was a strategy born of necessity, said Wayne Johnson, the Sacramento consultant for the campaign.
"We got started late," said Johnson. "In order to have an impact, we had to call people who could write big checks."
Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley Republican who's running the Prop. 77 effort, put in $1.25 million of his own money and then started calling people in the high-tech industry. He got $250,000 each from James Morgan, chairman of Applied Materials; Khosla Vinod, co-founder of Sun Microsystems; and the Oracle Corp. Poizner also collected $100,000 from John Chambers, president of Cisco Systems, $425,000 from John Doerr, a high-tech venture capitalist, and $499,000 from David Woodley Packard, son of the HP founder.
"It's been really challenging," said Poizner, who plans to run for state insurance commissioner next year. "There are people running around everywhere looking for money."
That includes the nervous leaders of the state's Democratic and Republican parties, who never expected to be involved in a high-priced donnybrook in what was scheduled to be a political off-year.
"It's been very tough to raise money right after the 2004 presidential election," said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party. "We've hit up a lot of people. It's been exhausting and difficult for everyone."
With the race for governor and a whole slate of local and statewide elections on tap for 2006, he and his candidates are going to have to go hat in hand to donors not anxious to pull their checkbooks out again.
"One election ends Nov. 8 and the other one starts Nov. 9," Torres moaned.
"Is there voter and donor fatigue? Absolutely," said Duf Sundheim, chairman of the state Republican Party. "But at the end of the day, we'll have the resources to do what we need."
But the size of that need keeps growing. Even with the spending limits for the campaigns for office, the price of victory keeps rising.
"I've got a guy coming into my office today who wants to run for an open judgeship in Los Angeles, and I'm going to tell him if he can't raise $100,000, not to bother," said Cerrell. "In 1954, I ran Jesse Unruh's campaign for Assembly, and we spent $6,000, primary and general election, to beat a 17-year Republican incumbent."
The millions spent in this year's special election will just ratchet up the cost of future campaigns, he said.
"There's no reason to believe the increases are going to stop; costs never go back," he said. "This is where the bar is now."
2005 Million Dollar Club
An unofficial list of the state's biggest donors in 2005:
-- California Teachers Association (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $56.6 million
-- California State Council of Service Employees (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $16.1 million
-- Pfizer (Support Prop. 78): $9.9 million
-- GlaxoSmithKline (Support Prop. 78): $9.8 million
-- Johnson & Johnson (Support Prop. 78): $9.8 million
-- Merck & Co (Support Prop. 78): $9.8 million
-- Arnold Schwarzenegger (Support Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $7.25 million
-- Amgen (Support Prop. 78): $4.7 million
-- Abbott Laboratories (Support Prop. 78): $4.6 million
-- Bristol-Myers Squibb (Support Prop. 78): $4.5 million
-- Novartis Pharmaceuticals (Support Prop. 78): $4.5 million
-- Aventis Pharmaceuticals (Support Prop. 78): $4.5 million
-- Wyeth (Support Prop. 78): $4.5 million
-- Eli Lilly (Support Prop. 78): $4.5 million
-- Stephen Bing, producer (Oppose Prop. 77): $4.5 million
-- SEIU Local 1000 (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $4.1 million
-- William Robinson, former DHL owner (Support Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $3.75 million
-- California Federation of Teachers (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $3.6 million
-- California Correctional Peace Officers Association (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $3.5 million
-- Alex Spanos, Stockton developer (Support Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $3.25 million
-- Jerry Perenchio, Univision CEO (Support Props 74, 75, 76, 77): $3 million
-- PACE of California School Employees (Oppose Props 74, 75, 76, 77): $2.1 million
-- California Chamber of Commerce (Support Props 74, 75, 76, 77): $1.8 million
-- Constellation Energy Group (Oppose Prop. 80): $1.3 million
-- California Professional Firefighters (Oppose Props 74, 75, 76, 77): $1.3 million
-- Steve Poizner, Silicon Valley executive (Support Prop. 77): $1.25 million
-- Voter Registration and Education Fund (Oppose Prop. 77): $1.1 million
-- Wal-Mart Stores and family (Support Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $1 million
-- Small Business Action Committee (Support Prop. 76): $1 million
-- Association of California School Administrators (Oppose Props. 74, 75, 76, 77): $1 million
Source: California secretary of state records
E-mail John Wildermuth at email@example.com.
Page A - 1
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)