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Tribes Give $1.5 Million for TV Ads for Prop. 53

October 03, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Proposition 53, the measure on Tuesday's ballot that would set aside a portion of the state budget for infrastructure projects, got a boost Thursday from two Indian tribes that have put $1.5 million into television advertisements touting the proposal and featuring Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

The 30-second ad that began airing around the state this week is the first television advertising by either side in the campaign on Proposition 53, which would dedicate as much as 3% of the state's main pool of tax revenue to pay for freeways, water systems, parks, state offices and other projects.

Officials with the Yes on Proposition 53 campaign, who have been struggling to raise money and catch voters' attention, said they had known nothing of the ad until Thursday afternoon. It is paid for by an independent expenditure committee financed by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians, operators of casinos in San Diego and Riverside counties.

With a close-up photograph of a smiling Bustamante, the ad touts Proposition 53 as having been endorsed by "business, labor and the leader of California's infrastructure commission -- Cruz Bustamante." The reference is to a state commission charged with developing a long-term infrastructure plan. Bustamante is the co-chairman.

The lieutenant governor, the leading Democratic candidate to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the recall election, has received large campaign contributions from casino-owning Indian tribes.

Last month, after criticism that his fund-raising from Indian tribes exceeded state campaign contribution limits, Bustamante shifted millions of dollars into a campaign committee he controlled that ran advertisements against the other measure on the ballot, Proposition 54. The measure would restrict the state's gathering of racial and ethnic data. That move was ruled illegal by a state judge. The new advertising would not be covered by the ruling because the campaign committee is directly controlled by the tribes, not by Bustamante.

Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge), coauthor of Proposition 53, said he had not solicited Indian tribes for money to support Proposition 53, which is backed by developers, business groups and engineering consulting firms. Richman and other supporters of the proposition argue that the Legislature has failed to provide enough money to keep California's infrastructure intact. The measure would guarantee steady funds for important projects, they say.

Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., which opposes Proposition 53, said he hoped the ads would backfire.

"People will overwhelmingly reject these sleazy tactics," he said. "I think the tribes should pay attention to who they're hurting -- it's schools, it's health care, it's poor people."

Goldberg argues that the ballot measure would remove too much flexibility from the Legislature to decide how to spend taxpayers money. Requiring that a certain percentage of the general fund be spent on infrastructure, he said, would force lawmakers to shortchange other programs.

"These guys don't pay taxes, and they want to spend other people's money," Goldberg said, referring to the tribes.

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