The battle over a clear-air initiative has degenerated into a sideshow pitting political consultants against each other in a heated war of words, in one of this year’s most expensive initiative campaigns. A leading volunteer working against Proposition 10 says he is being “Swift-boated” by the Yes on 10 group Californians for Energy Independence, while Yes on 10 supporters claim the spokesman is a disgruntled consultant who was rebuffed by the Yes campaign.
Anthony Rubenstein, who is affiliated with the No campaign and has written editorials against the measure, says he has been unfairly targeted by a Web site, tonytherube.com, in an effort to discredit him and the No on 10 campaign.
Spokespeople for the Yes on 10 campaign denied any connection to the “Tony the Rube” Web site.
Rubenstein, an energy consultant who has been working in an unpaid capacity for the No on 10 campaign, which they’ve dubbed “the $10 Billion Lemon.” The site is tagged with the headline “Tony is full of baloney” and depicts a man with an elongated Pinocchio nose.
The site was launched by political consultant Patrick Dorinson of PD Communications, according to an Oct. 8 e-mail Dorinson sent to reporters. “Tony is like the bad penny of California politics,” Dorinson wrote. The e-mail says Rubenstein “offered to help the proponents of Proposition 10 small fee of $30,000 per month.” The e-mail included a PDF called “Tony Blog Announcement,” which opens in a format written on a virtual version of PD Communications stationary.
Dorinson has criticized Rubenstein on the Fox and Hounds Web site, a Republican blog for which he is a regular contributor. Campaign finance reports indicate Dorinson has not received any money from the Yes on 10 Campaign. He said he was not paid to do the website by the Yes campaign.
Rubenstein said he does not know Dorinson, and does understand the personal attacks against him.
“I knew they were going to come after me,” Rubenstein said. “Did I expect it to be vehement and mean-spirited? No. They have done me actual professional damage. I will have to explain this away any time I go into a job interview or a meeting. They have tried to destroy me personally. What does it say about the next guy who goes up against some big money initiative who doesn’t have the cover of the Sierra Club or NRDC?”
Both environmental groups have come out against Proposition 10.
The initiative, which calls on the state to borrow $5 billion to provide incentives for clean-energy vehicles and other measures, is backed by the company founded by oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens. Pickens funded the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004.
Amy Thoma, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 10 side, said she does not know who created the Web site.
“I have seen it, but it’s not connected to the campaign,” Thoma said. Thoma said that she came across the site while Googling Rubenstein. She said the campaign has made no payments to Dorinson or PD Communications.
While there may be no formal connection between the Web site and the Yes on 10 Campaign, Rubenstein said the messaging is similar. He says the Yes side has run a concerted effort to trash his reputation ever since he wrote a July 29 editorial in the Los Angeles Times against the measure, called “T. Boone Pickens’ Clean Secret” He said that the chief Yes on 10 spokesman, Marty Wilson of Wilson Miller Communications in Sacramento, has attacked his reputation when speaking to numerous reporters.
The measure is opposed by an odd coalition of environmental groups and conservative organizations such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. The No side has been working against a more than 100-to-one disadvantage in money, having raised only $190,000. The Yes side has raised $22.5 million; $18.75 million has come from Clean Energy Fuels. The Pickens-founded company, based in Seal Beach, bills itself as “North America’s leader in clean transportation.”
The claim that Rubenstein asked the work on the Prop. 10 campaign is a reference to a letter posted on a Democratic blog, the California Majority Report and elsewhere. It was signed not by Rubenstein but by Damian Jones of Pacific Strategy Group (PSG) in Los Angeles. Rubenstein said that he talked to Paul Vizcaino, another consultant at PSG about the initiative in February. Rubenstein said he never submitted a proposal to work on Prop. 10, and that he has never seen a hard copy of Jones’ letter. Jones did not return a call seeking comment.
Rubenstein was the chairman of the Proposition 87 campaign. This 2006 initiative would have taxed oil companies to provide $4 billion in alternative energy incentives and research. It lost by 10 points after a concerted campaign by energy companies. Rubenstein said that Prop. 10 takes much of the nice-sounding language from Prop. 87—what he called the “puppy dogs and rainbows” portions—while removing the parts of the initiative that had teeth.
He said they met with the team behind Prop. 10 earlier this year and asked them to put some of the alternative energy funding back in, but they refused. Only then did he come out against the measure, Rubenstein said, because it provides a disproportionate amount of funding for natural gas vehicles. This would be a giveaway to Pickens’ company, Rubenstein said, while providing little bang for the buck in terms of cleaning up the environment.
Marty Wilson, partner at Wilson Miller Communications in Sacramento and chief spokesman for the Yes on 10 campaign, tells a different story about Rubenstein’s interaction with the campaign.
“Rubenstein met with us and offered to work for us and we turned him down,” Wilson said. “I guess he didn’t like the answer. He was an interesting guy to talk to and made a lot of interesting claims. We did our due diligence and found out it was mostly a figment of his imagination. He doesn’t have a particularly good reputation in the business community or the environmental community.”
Not so, said Richard Holober, chief spokesman for the No on 10 campaign, which is what they said would be the final repayment cost of the $5 billion in general obligation bonds. He said they would not allow Rubenstein to speak on behalf of the campaign if he had a bad reputation.
“Anthony is an unpaid volunteer who has been working very hard to get the message out,” said Holober, who is also the executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. “He’s terrific. We truly are grateful for his support.”
Holober added: “What Marty Wilson is doing is Swift-boating Tony Rubenstein. It’s second nature. They don’t know how to argue the merits. They just engage in unfounded, ad hominem character assassination.”