Well-heeled donors expected to get behind anti-Proposition 93 effort

Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and U.S. Term Limits have eached chipped in $1.5 million to help defeat Proposition 93, the initiative that would change the state's term limits law. Poizner appeared at a press conference Tuesday, announcing that he intended to form a new committee to fight the initiative. He has pledged $1.5 million in seed money, and to spend "whatever it takes" to defeat the measure in February.

Meanwhile, U.S. Term Limits has donated $1.5 million to the old anti-93 committee. Spokesman Kevin Spillane, who will also serve as spokesman for Poizner's committee, said that money is expected to move into the newly formed Poizner committee soon. 

Proposition 93, due to go before voters on Feb. 5, would shorten the amount of time legislators could spend in office from 14 years to 12, but would let them spend the entire time in one house.

The Committee on Term Limits & Legislative Reform, which backs Proposition 93, has pulled in about $3.3 million, compared with around $200,000 for their opponents. That was, until U.S. Term Limits and Poizner stepped in.

"People look at this and say ‘They've only got $200,000,'" said Richard Stapler, communications director for the Term Limits Reform campaign. "There are a lot of people out there who would give more than $200,000 to this."

The No. 1 person on that list New York developer Howard Rich, a major donor to the Term Limits America PAC (TLA). TLA, in turn, is the single biggest donor so far to the statewide effort, having given $150,000. Rich is also a founder of U.S. Term Limits.

A major donor to conservative causes nationwide, Rich is more closely associated with eminent domain reform. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Rich gave about $6 million last year to support eminent domain measures in seven states. But Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he thinks "the man from New York" may get more involved in the anti-93 campaign.

In the meantime, the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffet's longtime business partner donated $50,000 to the anti-93 effort. Charles T. Munger Jr., a theoretical physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, made the donation on Oct. 29. He is the son of the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Corp. With a net worth of $1.9 billion, the elder Munger was listed by Forbes magazine this year as the world's 538th richest person. He gave $43.5 million to Stanford University in 2004 to fund the construction of a dorm bearing his name.

"He's interested in the issue," Spillane said of the younger Munger. "I think you'll see a lot more people like that donating in the days ahead."

In the meantime, Spillane claimed many of the big donors to the pro-93 side were afraid not to give.

"It's a whose who of the Capitol's largest interest groups," Spillane said. "People who do business in the legislature who have a gun pointed at their heads by legislative leadership."

The California Teacher's Association and the Los Angeles Casino PAC each have given a quarter million dollars. Those giving $100,000 each include the California Correction Peace Officers Association, the SEIU United Healthcare Workers, and a pair of gaming tribes, the Pala Band of Mission Indians and the United Auburn Indian Community. At least four members of Núñez caucus have also made donations of at least $45,000.

In looking at how the two sides are likely to spend their millions when it comes to advertising, their rhetoric so far is likely to provide a clue. The anti-93 side is likely to focus ongoing popularity of term limits-and the unpopularity of the legislature.

"The perception of the legislature is lower than a snake's belly," Coupal said. "Most people don't know yet that this is a relaxation of term limits. Once voters realize what it is, I expect it to get no more than 35 percent of the vote."

The pro-93 side, in turn, is likely to focus on what they say is the other side ethical issues. In recent days, they have repeatedly brought up issues Term Limits America has had in California and other states, such as allegations of misrepresentations by signature gatherers.

Another likely target is San Bernardino Country assessor Bill Postmus, who has signed on as the anti-93 campaign's director for his own county and neighboring Riverside. Seen as a GOP up-and-comer, Postmus gave $5,000 to the anti-93 effort on October 22.

Stapler pointed to news reports showing questions that were raised over $195 Postmus expensed for what opponents say was a personal trip in 2006. Postmus has also been accused on interfering in a lawsuit by an employee against San Bernardino County and with a county land deal. No charges or disciplinary actions were filed against Postmus in any of these situations, but the pro-93 side may continue to use these allegations.

"It fits a pattern of unethical behavior that fits nicely with the model U.S. Term Limits has set in other states," Stapler said.

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