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California and the West | CAMPAIGN SPENDING

Cost of California Races Expected to Top $200 Million

Without contribution caps, some legislative and initiative battles receive six-figure donations. Democrats have spent about twice as much as Republicans.

November 06, 2000|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Spending on state political campaigns will exceed $200 million by Tuesday's election, as initiative promoters and foes will have shelled out more than $120 million, and many legislative races will cost more than $3 million.

Democrats have twice as much money as Republicans, raising the possibility that Democrats, who already control the Legislature, will come close to attaining a two-thirds majority in both houses.

Total legislative spending on campaigns won't be known until after January. However, it will exceed $70 million, with Democrats having out-raised Republicans by at least a 2-1 ratio.

For his party, "it's like going into war with no bullets," said Republican consultant Ray McNally.

In a state that has no caps on the size of contributions, $100,000 donations to legislative races are not uncommon. And virtually every interest contributes, from gambling and electric utilities to oil companies, the insurance industry, trial lawyers and organized labor.

More than $8 million has flowed into a handful of hard-fought legislative campaigns in the last two weeks. The money is being used to finance a late ad blitz on television and radio, as well as mailers and slate cards.

The national Republican Party has shifted millions to California. But the California Democratic Party, pumped up in October with $4 million from the national party, gave six-figure sums to at least 13 state legislative candidates.

"Where power resides, people want to be supportive," said state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres. "They want their case heard. And many of them agree with what the Democratic Party stands for. We have fundamentally changed to a party of the middle."

The Democratic Party, for example, spent $526,000 to reelect state Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach). Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), responsible for the Senate Democrats' overall campaign effort, poured another $553,000 into Karnette's race. The spending on Karnette also is aimed at helping Democrat Jane Harman in her attempt to unseat Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R-Rancho Palos Verdes).

While spending this year won't set a record, Campaign 2000 is notable for the disparity between Democrats and Republicans in California. In five hard-fought Senate seats, Democrats have outspent Republicans $13.5 million to $6 million. In eight close Assembly fights, Democrats have outspent Republicans $7 million to $4.1 million.

Democrats control the Senate and the Assembly. If their ads and mailers sway enough voters, Democrats could reach a two-thirds majority in the 40-seat upper house, and approach 50 seats in the 80-seat Assembly.

A two-thirds majority is key in California, where it takes such a majority to approve the annual state budget, raise taxes and override vetoes by the governor.

The priciest legislative race is in Contra Costa County, where Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) is challenging incumbent Sen. Richard Rainey (R-Walnut Creek). The tab exceeds a combined $5 million.

In a tough Los Angeles-area Senate race, Assemblyman Jack Scott (D-Altadena) has spent $1.9 million to businessman Paul Zee's $1.4 million. Scott had almost $800,000 left to spend in the final days of the election.

As of Oct. 21, Assemblyman Bob Margett (R-Arcadia), seeking a Senate seat held by a termed-out Republican, had raised $1.3 million. The Democrat, West Covina City Councilman Richard Melendez, had $952,000. But in recent days, Democrats gave Melendez another $535,000.

As much as is being spent on legislative races, the big money is reserved for initiatives. Proposition 38, which would provide tax-funded vouchers to parents for private school tuition, is this election's costliest ballot measure, with a price tag of more than $60 million.

Backers have raised $30.4 million. The sponsor, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Timothy Draper, has spent $23.4 million on his vision for improving California's schools.

A. Jerrold Perenchio, head of Univision, the Spanish-language television network, gave $1 million to the voucher campaign last month. The campaign spent $400,000 for air time on Univision's Los Angeles affiliate, KMEX-TV.

The measure's foes, led by the 300,000-member California Teachers Assn., raised more than $30 million. The teachers union gave $26.3 million in cash and staff time to kill the measure.

The year's other high-cost initiative is Proposition 39. Gov. Gray Davis and his campaign team are backing the initiative, which would permit voters to approve local school construction bond measures with a 55% vote rather than a two-thirds majority. Proposition 39's backers raised $28 million, relying on Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Davis' loyal donors.

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