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CAPITOL JOURNAL

With Prop. 208 Hiatus Over, Its Back to Bucks

May 29, 1997|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — The vacation has been great--long and leisurely--but now it's almost over. You've got to go back to work next Monday if your ambition is to become governor. Back to the old grind of hustling money.

"I've loved it. I've loved every day of it," says a relaxed Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren. But he cringes at the fund-raising chores that have piled up during a five-month hiatus mandated by Proposition 208, the campaign finance initiative approved overwhelmingly by voters last November.

"I never have liked asking people for money," he says. (He's not alone: Very few politicians do.)

"I don't ask people directly for money. I try and ask them for their 'assistance' and then hopefully the campaign [staff] follows up. I find it awkward. And as attorney general, I don't want to put myself in a position where I ask somebody for a specific sum. So that makes me the non-ideal fund-raising candidate."

Just last Saturday, the prospective GOP gubernatorial nominee was goofing off on the east side of the Sierra, riding a mule named "Skinny" in Bishop's annual Mule Days parade.

There was some rationale for this, besides merely a love of riding: Lungren also was rounding up volunteers for his campaign--as he likewise was last week in such Sierra resort spots as Independence, Bridgeport and tiny Markleeville. In all, he strolled through three mountain counties where total voters amount to only about one-ninth that of an average Assembly district.

There'll be little time for such lollygagging after Monday. June 2 is the restart date for fund-raising if you're a candidate for statewide office. It's back to the money race. Back to working the banquet halls, rich people's living rooms and the phones dialing for dollars.

*

Here, a brief refresher course on Proposition 208 may be helpful. Warning: The new law reads like duck hunting regs.

For a gubernatorial candidate, there's a "voluntary" spending limit of $6 million for the primary and another $8 million for the general election. (That's roughly half what Gov. Pete Wilson spent winning reelection in 1994.)

The "voluntary" limit is an offer you really can't refuse, unless you're a super rich candidate like airline mogul Al Checchi, who plans to finance his own campaign. Then you can ignore 208. Otherwise, by accepting the spending limit, your contribution limit from individuals doubles from $500 to $1,000.

Also, if some candidate refuses to honor the spending limit--and Checchi already has announced that he will--the spending limit doubles for all other contenders. Thus, if Checchi indeed runs--which he says is probable--then the primary limit will be a whopping $12 million, much more than any candidate possibly can raise.

Checchi is a Democrat, but since California is moving to an "open" primary, in which candidates of all parties run on the same ballot, his blowing off 208 will double the spending limit even for Republican Lungren.

So it's a no-brainer: Lungren has announced he'll accept the spending limit. Right now, he has $2.6 million in the bank and needs to raise at least another $11.4 million to limit out for the primary and general elections.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis has stashed about $4 million and also is expected to honor the limit.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein undoubtedly will, too, if she runs. She's still mulling it over. She'll likely mull for months. The betting is she'll run, but the senator doesn't see any advantage in announcing early. She already has high name ID and feels she can raise money quickly. On the other hand, once she becomes a candidate, she'll get the freeze treatment from GOP Senate leaders.

Meanwhile, former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and state Controller Kathleen Connell are frozen waiting for Feinstein. Neither will run if she does.

Feinstein soon may tip her hand to Panetta. As for Connell, who's recovering from a broken hip suffered May 10 while roller-blading, it's looking like she'll probably run either for reelection or lieutenant governor.

*

Lungren will spend the next month trying to raise $1 million at high-priced dinners in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego, Fresno . . .

"I love to go to dinners," he says, "but it was kind of nice going to dinners without thinking that everybody out there had to pay to come and see me."

There has been a lot of whining about Proposition 208, mainly from the political pros--the paid gurus, ad makers and fund-raisers, whose slices of the pie will be smaller under spending limits. Surely there will be unintended consequences. Nobody knows how this latest "reform" will turn out.

But we already know one thing: It has forced a nice five-month respite for candidates and contributors. And for that, they can thank 208 and the voters.

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