SACRAMENTO — For Assembly Republican Leader Curt Pringle, it's bad enough that his beloved GOP was bested in the Legislature by the Democrats on election day. Now he has to pay for it.
Pringle, who lost the speakership after the Democrats won a 43-37 majority in the Assembly, has been forced to send out an "emergency" fund-raising letter to recoup $450,000 in debt racked up by his Assembly Republican Victory Fund.
In the letter, Pringle chalks up the deficit to efforts by Republicans to "keep up with the unlimited funds poured into key Democrat campaigns from forced union dues."
Although the Democrats argue that they were outspent by Republicans on Assembly races, labor unions gave them a big boost with money and manpower during the final days of the campaign.
"Labor was a huge help," said Speaker Pro Tem Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica). "But it wasn't just their money. What Curt is missing is that thousands and thousands and thousands of working people, entire families, turned out to walk precincts. His letter misconstrues how seriously worried working men and women were about the Republican anti-labor agenda."
Pringle's deficit-reduction pitch, dispatched via direct mail to 15,000 Republicans statewide, isn't the sort of season's greetings he had in mind for the GOP faithful.
But the Republican leader has been forced to scramble, along with other debt-racked politicians, because of a new state campaign finance law going into effect Jan. 1 that will sharply curtail fund-raising efforts.
"If you could please send an emergency contribution of $25 to help the Assembly Republican Victory Fund pay all remaining bills before the end of this month, I would be deeply appreciative," Pringle said in his letter, adding that "before we can do anything else, I must do all I can to pay our bill and clear the books from the 1996 election."
Pringle also hosted a $1,000-a-person reception Thursday night at the private Capitol Club in Sacramento that was expected to bring in upward of $100,000.
"We think we're in pretty good shape," said Jeff Flint, Pringle's deputy chief of staff. "I don't think it will all be taken care of by year's end, but it will be a manageable amount."
Flint said $250,000 of the debt is the result of a last-minute loan from Orange County philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, a conservative Christian and wealthy donor to Republican causes and candidates.
About half of the total campaign debt in the Assembly Republican Victory Fund, Flint said, will be absorbed by other GOP lawmakers in the Assembly.
Democrats, meanwhile, weren't gloating--at least not publicly.
"We're only two years past being in exactly the same boat, only we had a little longer to try to pay off our debts," said Kuehl, recalling the drubbing Democrats took in 1994 that allowed the Republicans to capture the Assembly. "So I certainly understand the pressure and the near-panic he must feel."