Independent Groups Lavish Money on Races
SACRAMENTO â€" In a final sprint toward
election day, special interests have begun sinking millions
of dollars into the state's tightest legislative races to
help candidates they favor.
To get around laws that limit direct contributions, real
estate agents, nurses, lawyers, prescription drug makers
and others have formed or donated to so-called independent
expenditure committees that are pooling their money to buy
television ads and campaign literature on their candidates'
So far this month, such groups have given candidates nearly
$3 million. The practice is also common in national
In California, the committees are free to spend unlimited
amounts as long as they don't coordinate with candidates.
But Democrats alleged this week that the heaviest-spending
committee, backed by some of the state's biggest
businesses, coordinated the purchase of television ads with
a Republican Assembly candidate in Santa Barbara.
The candidate, Bob Pohl, denied any collaboration. So did
JobsPAC, an independent expenditure committee formed by the
California Manufacturers Assn. and the California Chamber
"The decision to reallocate our resources in terms of TV
was made independent of any consideration of what JobsPAC
was doing," Pohl said. "We did not coordinate anything with
JobsPAC in terms of scheduling our ads."
JobsPAC spokesman Todd Harris said: "We went on the air,
beginning and end of story. I've never even spoken to
someone with the Pohl campaign. We went on the air with our
spots. That's the one piece of this we control."
The campaign of Pohl's Democratic opponent, Pedro Nava, on
Monday asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission
Michael Shimpock, Nava's campaign manager, said the Pohl
campaign paid to run 30-second ads on KEYT-TV, an ABC
affiliate in Santa Barbara, from Sept. 25 to Nov. 1. The
Pohl campaign canceled that contract Oct. 15, KEYT sales
manager Jim Valice said.
With a check dated Oct. 5, JobsPAC purchased air time on
KEYT to run its own 30-second ads on behalf of Pohl from
last Sunday through Oct. 31, Shimpock said.
"They bought the same spots he canceled," Shimpock said.
"It's a fairly blatant violation against the ban on
Fair Political Practices Commission spokeswoman Sigrid
Bathen said the agency had not yet received the
Independent expenditure campaigns have proliferated since
voters capped direct contributions to legislative
candidates four years ago by passing Proposition 34, which
generally limits donations to lawmakers to $3,200.
Independent expenditure committees typically launch their
campaigns a couple of weeks before election day and tend to
be financed by the same interest groups that donated
generously to politicians before Proposition 34.
Nearly all of the independent campaign money has been spent
in a few hotly contested districts statewide where the
proportion of Republican and Democratic voters is fairly
even. Buoyed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's
popularity, Republicans hope to gain seats in the Nov. 2
election and improve their standing in the Legislature,
where Democrats outnumber them 48 to 32 in the Assembly and
25 to 14 in the Senate.
Almost a third of the $3 million spent so far this month by
independent expenditure campaigns came through JobsPAC,
whose donors included the California Motor Car Dealers
Assn., Sempra Energy, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.,
ChevronTexaco Corp., food processors, insurance and
accounting firms, banks, health providers and developers.
On Monday, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of
America gave JobsPAC $75,000, records show.
With television ads, mail brochures and websites, JobsPAC
has targeted two races besides the 35th Assembly District
contest between Pohl and Nava: the 53rd Assembly District
race in Los Angeles County between Republican Greg Hill,
the mayor of Redondo Beach, and Democrat Mike Gordon,
former El Segundo mayor; and the 76th Assembly District
race in San Diego between Republican Tricia Hunter, a
former assemblywoman, and Democrat Lori Saldana, a
community college professor and Sierra Club activist.
JobsPAC has spent more than $320,000 for television
advertising attacking Saldana's positions on immigration
and more than $280,000 criticizing Gordon's management of
his telemarketing business.
Harris, of JobsPAC, said the committee is trying to "build
an army of supporters in the Legislature for the
"Gov. Schwarzenegger is working overtime to make California
a better place to do business and an easier place to create
jobs," he said. "The purpose of JobsPAC is to put members
of the Legislature on notice that you'd better think twice
before you start running up an anti-jobs, anti-business
Gordon's campaign manager, Steve Barkan, said his candidate
cannot afford to always respond to the JobsPAC-paid ads
because he made a commitment to limit the money he would
raise during the campaign. "I've never seen so much money
[spent] in such a short period of time," Barkan said. "We
have to respond. We're trying to point out who JobsPAC is
and why they're trying to defeat Mike Gordon."
Real estate interests are also heavily involved in
independent campaigns. They have spent nearly $700,000 this
month, mostly to support incumbent state Sen. Mike Machado
(D-Linden) and Steve Kuykendall, a Republican former
assemblyman running against Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long
Beach) for the assembly district including Long Beach.
Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), fighting for
reelection in a Bakersfield-area district against
Republican Dean Gardner, has received more than $225,000 in
independent expenditure support from agribusiness
interests, firefighters, prison guards, dentists and a
group that backs women running for office. The California
Dental Assn. has also spent $212,000 opposing Saldana.
Robert Stern, president of the nonprofit Center for
Government Studies in Los Angeles, said he would prefer to
see special interests spending on independent campaigns
than directly donating to a politician in a safe district.
"Everyone knows its only purpose is to have access to the
official," Stern said of such a donation, "because
everybody knows there's no race."
See the article on Los Angeles Times website