Interest Groups Played Key Recall Role
SACRAMENTO -Despite candidates' pledges to
shake up Sacramento's power structure, California's $80
million recall election was paid for largely by the same
interest groups that have contributed the bulk of campaign
contributions for years, records show.
More unusual were the groups that sat out the unique
election -- and that the rich candidate who spent the most
personal money won after spectacular previous losses by
Michael Huffington, Al Checchi, Jane Harman and others who
spent millions of their personal wealth on failing
"The only viable candidates in today's system are those who
are independently wealthy, or those who are willing to take
huge contributions from groups they would influence as
governor," said California Common Cause Director Jim Knox.
"This was a continuation of a pattern that's been in effect
for quite some time."
Republican Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger contributed $10
million in donations or loans to oust Democratic Gov. Gray
Davis, following up on an early campaign pledge that he was
so wealthy he didn't need special interest money.
However, Schwarzenegger then accepted $11.7 million in
contributions, a fifth of that money from builders and
developers. The only money he swore off was from gambling
tribes and organized labor, both of which were supporting
His self-funding and that by Rep. Darrell Issa ($2.3
million), former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth
($1.8 million), and "Ask Jeeves" creator Garrett Gruener
($1 million) made independent wealth the top financial
source in the recall election.
Tribes finally eclipsed unions as the biggest donors, with
spending by each topping $10 million, depending on how
money spent countering Proposition 54 is counted.
The failed initiative would have barred most government
collection of racial data, but millions were spent on that
effort by tribes and unions in what Republicans said was a
thinly disguised effort to assist Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz
Bustamante, who raised $12.5 million for his bid. A
Sacramento judge ruled Bustamante improperly used some of
the tribes' money, after most of it had been spent.
Tribes picked a high-profile fight with Schwarzenegger and
lost. That's likely to cost them additional taxes to help
ease the state's budget crisis as they negotiate with
Schwarzenegger over putting more slot machines in casinos,
said Scott Lay, an education lobbyist who created the
Recall Watch Web site that tracked campaign spending.
Developer and San Diego Chargers football team owner Alex
Spanos was Schwarzenegger's top donor at $344,700,
according to a Common Cause tally, leading the heavy
support the governor-elect drew from the real estate and
Many corporations and business groups that usually
contribute heavily sat on their wallets during the
campaign, however. They may have shied away from
California's new campaign finance limits, speculated Knox,
or rightly predicted that Schwarzenegger didn't need their
"The bigger story may be who didn't contribute in this
election," Lay said. "You have a situation where some major
players who usually take sides stayed out."
The powerful prison guards' union and other flush law
enforcement organizations generally abstained, while
teachers' unions mostly limited their contributions to
opposing Proposition 54.
Those groups would usually have been expected to heavily
support Davis, as they did in the last election, but this
time figured out early on that "the governor was never
likely to beat this," Lay said.
The governor still raised $17 million for his unsuccessful
Lawyers, doctors and other health care providers, along
with many professional associations also generally kept
their checkbooks closed.
"A lot of the traditional interest groups in the Capitol
tend to play it safe when it comes to contributions," said
Kim Alexander, president and founder of the California
Voter Foundation. "They weren't sure what strategy would be
effective" during the unusual recall election.
She and other reformers worry special interests that didn't
contribute during the campaign now have a tailor-made,
fail-safe way of paying homage to the winner:
They can contribute risk-free to help repay the $4.5
million Schwarzenegger borrowed at 4 percent interest,
money his campaign now needs to raise while he is governor
to keep it from coming out of his pocket.
See the article on Contra Costa Times website