Inside the term limits chess match

In the last week, more than $3 million has poured into the coffers of a campaign to change the state’s term-limits law. The Yes on Proposition 93 campaign has raised the money from key proponents of the Speaker’s proposed health care reform, Democratic lawmakers, telecom companies and teachers unions.

As the new money pours in, proponents of the measure have opted to pass on more than $500,000 worth of television advertising time that the campaign had reserved.

According to figures obtained by Capitol Weekly, the reserved time included about $315,000 in the Los Angeles media market and $169,000 in the Bay Area. The remainder comes from the Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego markets, where the Yes on 93 campaign has a much smaller media presence.

It is impossible to tell just what that figure means. It could mean anything from a shifting of resources to a tweak of campaign strategy. This week, the Yes on 93 campaign picked up a coveted endorsement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another from Republican state Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta.  Could this shift mean that the Yes side is hoping to reach out to Republican voters with their new, Republican spokesmen?
The Yes on 93 folks aren't talking.
“We do not publicly discuss our media strategy,” said Yes on 93 spokesman Richard Stapler.

But the No on 93 campaign says the numbers show the Yes side is in trouble. “It says to me they’re having trouble raising money,” said Wayne Johnson, a consultant for the No on 93 campaign.  “It’s much more likely that they’re not hitting their fundraising targets to fund their buys.”

"It’s clear that the No side has gone stark raving mad," said Stapler. "They’ve made up stories about the governor’s endorsement, and that strategy of making things up seems to continue.”

At first blush, fundraising would not seem to be a problem for the Yes campaign. The latest reports from the Secretary of State’s office indicates the Yes on 93 campaign has raised $10.5 million to date. Through the end of 2007, the campaign had spent about $5.5 million. A separate Yes on 93 committee, which is expected to fund the campaign’s direct mail operation, has raised about $1.8 million. And Speaker Fabian Nunez has another $5.2 million in his personal account that he could tap for the campaign.

While Stapler would not comment on his campaign's media strategy, he was all to happy to comment on the other side's. "The No campaign has reserved $1.5 million for the last week, but they only have $500,000 in the bank," he said.

No on 93 spokesman Kevin Spillane says with contested primaries in both presidential elections, and increased attention on the February ballot, the No on 93 campaign is hoping to increase its television ad buys in the coming weeks.

“What you’re looking at is probably unexpectedly high turnout because of the presidential contest being open and com in both parties,” said Spillane. “TV is the best medium to reach less-frequent voters. That’s the most logical medium. Television has always been the most important medium.”

In lower turn-out elections, supplemental advertising like direct mail and phone banking becomes increasingly important, Spillane said. But with a higher percentage of voters who are not frequent voters expected to turn out on Feb. 5, the importance of television is increased.

But this increased focus on television comes at a time when fewer people may be watching. The writers strike has decimated new programming schedules, and networks are bracing for declining viewership. A story in Thursday’s USA Today states, “apart from Fox, which ushered in American Idol on Tuesday, other networks are expected to become the "biggest losers" in coming weeks with a steadier diet of repeats and reality and the end of prime-time football.”

Johnson said the brunt of the writers’ strike will not be felt until after the election, some time in mid-February.

“There’s certainly no shortage of new shows, reality shows and sports,” he said. “There are plenty of opportunities for us to try to reach voters.”

Reaching voters may be more important to the No campaign than the Yes side. Polling shows that support is strongest for Proposition 93 when voters are read the official summary of the initiative that will appear on the February ballot. Support for the measure declines when voters learn the current legislative leadership is backing the measure to prolong their tenures.

“Their entire strategy was that the opposition would be underfunded,” Spillane said. “The ballot label was a political contribution worth several million dollars, and we’re working hard to counter that.”

The latest reports from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the Yes on 93 campaign has outraised the No side more than 2-1. According to the latest figures, the Yes side has raised more than $9.4 million. The money has come from a diverse group of labor unions, Democratic legislators, Indian tribes and interests with business before the Legislature.

The No campaign has raised more than $4 million – with $1.5 million coming from U.S. Term Limits and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has given an additional $1 million to the No side.

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