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Orange County

Developers Back Prop. 51 With Eye on Irvine

Measure would divert vehicle-tax revenue to projects like the Great Park. One group that got donations funded pro-Agran mailers.

October 26, 2002|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Companies with development interests in Irvine have poured $300,000 into two groups backing a statewide measure that would redirect $1 billion a year in state vehicle-tax revenue to special projects -- including $110 million for the Great Park at El Toro.

According to campaign finance reports updated Thursday, a dozen local companies have donated since April to two groups pushing for passage of Proposition 51, which is backed by Irvine Mayor Larry Agran.

One of the groups -- the Traffic Congestion Relief Initiative, Proposition 51 Committee -- in turn donated $25,000 last month for a flurry of slate mailers urging Irvine voters to support Agran and his council allies in the Nov. 5 election.

Irvine limits campaign contributions to $340 per donor, but there are no limits on slate mailers, which are mass mailings that list four or more candidates and ballot measures.

The Irvine mailers, called the Hometown Voter Guide, are produced by longtime Agran ally Ed Dornan. They are distinctive because each appears to be traditional campaign literature focusing on Irvine politics. A listing of other races and measures is confined to a portion of the back page.

Dornan has defended the slate mailers as a legitimate way for voters to be informed about candidates and issues. He couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Orange County supervisors recently clamped restrictions on "hit slates" for countywide races. The new rules require candidates to pay for the mailer if more than a quarter of the surface area supports the candidates, targets an opponent, or if a candidate helps coordinate the mailers.

The slate mailers "are an end-run around contribution limits," said longtime campaign reform advocate Shirley Grindle of Orange.

Dornan produced mailers for Agran's 2000 mayoral race and two council candidates Agran supported. Dornan spent about $200,000, much of which went unreported until after the election.

Councilman Greg Smith tried unsuccessfully this year to amend the city's campaign laws to conform with the new county rules, and criticized the Proposition 51 donation to Hometown Voter Guide.

"This follows a pattern," Smith said.

"It doesn't violate the law, but there's a difference between law and ethics."

Proposition 51 has been the largest donor to the guide since the March election. Agran and Councilwoman Beth Krom also each gave $10,000 and candidate Mitch Goldstone gave $5,000 from their campaigns.

Business donations to Proposition 51 include $45,000 from The Irvine Co.; $50,000 each from Crow Winthrop Development and Colton Properties, both of Irvine; and $25,000 each from William Lyon Homes of Newport Beach, and from a limited partnership hoping to build homes in the Irvine Business Center.

Hometown Voter Guide has produced a half-dozen mailers in recent weeks. Most are devoted to supporting Agran, Krom and Goldstone. They also criticize mayoral candidate Mike House and council candidates Chuck DeVore and Christina Shea -- Agran's predecessor as mayor.

A yes vote on Proposition 51 is urged in five lines on the back page. The only other issue listed is Irvine Measure GG, a repeal of the city's utility tax that is opposed by Agran, Krom and Goldstone. The mailer urges a no vote on GG.

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