1/31/08

Seniority-scam on ballot fueled by union cash

Incumbent Democratic lawmakers have donated or raised nearly $1.4 million for the California Proposition 93 campaign, fueling accusations that the measure to alter term limits is a power grab. Fourteen Democratic Assembly members and three senators contributed money in their own name, while numerous others gave to special committees used by colleagues to solicit funds for the effort, records show.

The two largest legislative contributors are Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, $350,000, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, $300,000. The measure would give them an extra four years and six years in office, respectively. "This shows what a lie it is that Proposition 93 actually reduces terms," said Kevin Spillane, spokesman for No on 93. "Politicians wouldn't be giving a million dollars if it wasn't going to lengthen their tenure."

A spokesman for Núñez, who helped craft Proposition 93, said in a written statement that the initiative would benefit the public.

"As a legislator who became speaker when he was just a freshman, the speaker, like the governor, understands better than most the value of experience and expertise that Proposition 93 will bring to the Legislature," said the spokesman, Steve Maviglio.

Proposition 93 would lengthen terms for lawmakers who spend their entire career in one house, but it would reduce time for those who move from the Assembly to the Senate, or vice versa.

State law now limits lawmakers to eight years in the Senate and six in the Assembly. Proposition 93 would cut the maximum from 14 years to 12, but allow all to be served in one house.

Ninety percent of legislators have not served the maximum by switching houses since term limits were imposed in 1990, according to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies.

No GOP legislator has contributed to campaigns for or against the measure. The California Republican Party, however, has donated $100,000 to fight it.

Proposition 93 funds linked to Democratic incumbents represent about 9 percent of the $15 million raised to pass it, primarily from labor unions, corporations, health-care firms and others with business before the Legislature.

No on 93 is led by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who has given $2.5 million of his personal fortune. Other top donors to the $7 million campaign are California Correctional Peace Officers Association, $2 million, and U.S. Term Limits, $1.5 million.

Poizner is widely regarded as a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate, prompting accusations that he is jockeying for position.

"He's trying to build Poizner brand recognition," said Richard Stapler, spokesman for Yes on 93.

Poizner countered that his opposition to the initiative has hampered him politically by stepping on toes from both parties.

"When I decided to run the No on 93 campaign, it was because no one else had the courage to stand up to these career politicians – really from both parties," Poizner said.

Maviglio, spokesman for Núñez, blasted No on 93 contributions by U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit group that is not required to disclose its donors and does not do so voluntarily.

Howard Rich, a wealthy, controversial New York developer and libertarian, is a trustee and former president of the group.

Maviglio said it is silly for Poizner to criticize Democratic donors to Yes on 93 when he "refuses to reveal who is stuffing (his campaign's) pockets with contributions."

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, contributed $45,000 to Yes on 93 and $105,000 to a committee linked to Perata that gave $300,000 to the effort.

Steinberg said he donated the money because Perata asked for funds and because existing term limits are too short. "Just as members are getting good at the job, they're termed out," he said.

Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party, turned thumbs down. "It's a self-serving measure that seeks to undermine term limits," he said.

GOP strategist Dan Schnur said Republican legislators have mixed feelings.

"On one hand, they're against career politicians," he said. "On the other hand, they wouldn't mind sticking around Sacramento for a few more years. So the best option is just to keep their head down."

(sacbee.com)

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