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Groups Use Billboards to Thank Legislators

January 23, 1998|Capitol Alert News Service

They are the latest trend in political speech, billboards up and down the state thanking state legislators for their support.

"I was just as surprised as anyone to see it," said Assemblyman Jim Battin (R-La Quinta), whose face is plastered on a billboard that sits in the heart of his Palm Springs-area district. "I started hearing from a bunch of other legislators that they got billboards just like it in their districts."

Battin's billboard was paid for by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and gives thanks for his support of "fair play for all California Indian tribes."

Battin, an ardent supporter of Indian gaming, was one of 80 state lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, who received billboards. In all, Agua Caliente and other tribes shelled out $500,000 for the statewide campaign.

"This was done in conjunction with the 107 recognized tribes up and down the state," said Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Richard Milanovich, one of the organizers of the campaign. The tribes are battling Gov. Pete Wilson over casino-style gambling on their lands and looking for all the allies they can find.

"This is just a broad way of saying thank you to those legislators who have helped out in the past," Milanovich said.

The idea of political billboards arose last year, when the California Medical Assn. was engaged in a struggle with the state's trial lawyers association over pending medical malpractice legislation. The CMA decided to buy publicity for sympathetic legislators in the form of billboards.

At the time, Proposition 208, the 1996 campaign-finance reform initiative, banned political contributions for long periods of time, forcing interest groups to find new ways of showing their devotion to favored lawmakers.

The measure was thrown out this month by a federal judge. But Republican political consultant Ray McNally said the billboard campaigns may be a lasting legacy of Proposition 208.

"This way, we can still help sympathetic candidates but we can make sure that our money is being used to talk about our issues," he said.

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