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CALIFORNIA | THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

State Scrutinizes Bustamante's Fund-Raising

September 17, 2003|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The California Fair Political Practices Commission told a judge Tuesday that it's unclear whether Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's campaign spending strategy violates state law.

The commission filed a 12-page letter as part of a lawsuit filed by state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), an author of Proposition 34, the voter-approved initiative that regulates political fund-raising and spending. The commission is charged with enforcing that law.

Johnson's suit alleges that Bustamante violated campaign contribution limits by accepting single donations as high as $1.5 million into an old account not covered by the new law, and using the money to wage his current campaign. Proposition 34 bars candidates in the recall race from accepting direct donations of more than $21,200 from individual donors.

The commission said Bustamante was within the law to receive unlimited sums in his old fund. But it said he might have been violating state law if he had solicited the donations into the old account with plans to use the money in the recall campaign.

The commission wrote that "such conduct would constitute a violation of the act at the time the contributions are made and an evasion of the contribution limits for the 2003 gubernatorial race."

Johnson said the commission's letter confirmed his "basic contention -- that what Bustamante did is illegal."

Bustamante's attorney, Lance Olson, saw things differently. "The letter supports our legal position," he said.

The commission acknowledged that it has not fully analyzed the matter, which will be heard by Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster on Thursday in Sacramento. Its letter said the agency "simply has not had an opportunity to evaluate and opine on the complex legal issues" raised by Johnson's suit.

The commission said it needed to be circumspect in its comments because it is "currently undertaking an investigation" into Bustamante's fund-raising, in part because of a complaint Johnson filed earlier this month.

After Bustamante's rivals in the recall race denounced his fund-raising methods, the lieutenant governor changed his strategy.

He moved roughly $4 million into another new account that he controls set up to oppose Proposition 54, an initiative on the Oct. 7 ballot to limit government's ability to gather statistics on race and ethnicity.

Bustamante is featured in commercials denouncing the measure.

Some of the money Bustamante transferred came from Indian tribes, his biggest donors in the recall race. On Tuesday, state records showed that a committee controlled by Southland tribes spent $50,000 in printing expenses on Bustamante's behalf. The committee spent $50,000 on Bustamante last week as well, also on printing.

There are no contribution or spending restrictions on committees operating independent of candidates.

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