Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley millionaire who has heavily bankrolled his own political races, has decided to finance the campaign against a February ballot initiative that would allow the current crop of legislative leaders to stay in power for several more years, Capitol Weekly has learned.
A public announcement was expected Tuesday at a Capitol news conference at which Poizner was expected to attend. On Monday
evening, Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for the No on Proposition
93 campaign, declined to confirm or deny Poizner's role.
The level of Poizner's anticipated financial support was unknown. But the Republican Poizner spent some $15 million on his own 2006 race for insurance commissioner. Two years earlier, he
spent some $8 million on an unsuccessful race for a Silicon Valley Assembly seat.
His donations to defeat the leaders' term-limits initiative are also likely to be in the seven figures.
A donation by Poizner, the ranking GOP state official after Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, could force a high-stakes ballot showdown with the Legislature's Democratic leaders, who have raised millions of dollars to win passage of the initiative, Proposition 93, on the Feb. 5 ballot.
The Committee for Term Limits and Legislative Reform, a creature
of Speaker Fabian Núñez, has raised more than $2.6 million so far this year, according to records from the Secretary of State's office. More than $2 million of that money has already been spent. Núñez has another $5.2 million in his personal account that could also potentially be used to fund the Yes campaign.
Meanwhile, opponents of the measure have raised just over
$200,000 so far this year. Poizner's involvement in the political fight over the ballot initiative has enormous potential consequences, including his ability to match the pro-Proposition 93 forces dollar-for-dollar.
Earlier, there were rumors that Poizner intended to join the
campaign against the initiative which, if approved, would
allow Nunez andSenate Leader Don Perata, both Democrats,
to keep their jobs–Nunez for six more years and Perata for four.
"He signed the ballot argument, and that's where this is coming from," Wayne Johnson, a Poizner strategist, said last week, referring to Poizner's signature on the official rebuttal to the ballot argument
favoring Proposition 93.
"Proposition 93 is an arrogant and self-serving power grab by career politicians," the statement reads. Poizner co-authored the statement with Martha Montelongo of the California TermLimits Defense Fund and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Under current law, approved by voters in 1990, lawmakers are limited to a total of14 years–six years in the Assembly in three, two-year terms, and eight years in the Senate, in two, four-year terms.
Proposition 93, backed by Núñez and Senate Leader Don Perata, would cut the totalto12 years. But it would allow a lawmaker to spend all that time in one house. It also allows Senators who are currently facing term limits in 2008 to serve one extra term. If approved, Núñez would be allowed to get six more years in the Assembly, while Perata would get four more years in the Senate.
The potential political upside for Poizner is clear.
The insurance commissioner is expected to be a candidate for
governor in 2010. If he spent money to defeat Proposition 93, he could decide to blanket the state with television ads which could also help introduce him to California TV watchers.
It could also build some good will with the cash-strapped and talent-seeking California Republican Party, which has officially opposed Proposition 93. Poizner, a moderate who has given money to Democratic candidates before running for office, could earn himself some chits with the Republican base by actively opposing Proposition93.
On a personal level, those close to Poizner say he believes
the Democrats'term-limits initiative is flawed, and is unhappy that lawmakers thwarted his attempts to create an independent redistricting commission and limit the amount of insurance money in the campaigns for insurance commissioner.