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Bustamante Ads Still on the Air

Court had ordered him to stop using funds that bought air time for the anti-Prop. 54 TV spots.

September 25, 2003|Dan Morain and Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante continued using disputed donations to air television commercials even after a judge ordered that he return the millions of dollars, court documents filed Wednesday allege.

Bustamante's campaign attorney and top political strategist said Wednesday morning that the lieutenant governor, who is running to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he is recalled Oct. 7, could not cancel the ads without breaching contracts with television stations. But according to an employee of an NBC affiliate, a subcontractor for Bustamante's campaign inquired about canceling the spots -- although Bustamante's chief strategist said no such inquiries have been made or authorized.

The ads oppose Proposition 54, the initiative on the Oct. 7 ballot that would restrict government's ability to collect racial and ethnic data. The spots, which feature the candidate, were taped at a Bustamante-for-governor rally.

Attorneys for state Sen. Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), the lawmaker who filed the suit that prompted the judge's order, said in the court filings that Bustamante could simply direct the television stations to cancel the rest of this week's ad buy. "The defendants are moving slowly because it suits them," said attorney Eric Grant.

"Ross Johnson is in favor of Proposition 54," responded Bustamante campaign strategist Richie Ross. "We are killing Proposition 54. He is doing everything he can to stop us."

An employee of an NBC affiliate in Northern California said Wednesday afternoon that representatives of Bustamante's campaign had called the station to cancel the ads.

"They asked us if they could get out and what they would need to do," said the employee, who asked that he and his station not be named.

Although NBC requires four weeks' notice for ad cancellations, the employee said, affiliates treat political candidates as "preferred customers" and would likely reach a quick compromise with Bustamante.

He said the cancellation requests came from Palisades Media Group, a Los Angeles firm that booked the air time for Bustamante.. Palisades Media referred queries to Ross.

Ross said no such inquiry had been made.

"It is just not true," Ross said. "I don't know where it is coming from."

Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster ruled Monday that Bustamante violated campaign law by accepting large donations to an old campaign fund not subject to new state limits, then transferring the money to a new fund and spending it in the current campaign. He used the money in question -- $3.8 million -- to pay for the TV ads.

Ross said the lieutenant governor spent $2.2 million for a statewide advertising blitz last week, and another $1.6 million this week. The first ads began running Sept. 16.

Representatives of two other television stations, KTLA in Los Angeles and CBS affilliate KPIX of San Francisco, said Bustamante's campaign had not contacted them.

In their filing Wednesday, Johnson's attorneys cited television station records gathered by David Bienstock, a veteran media buyer who is working for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bienstock said in an affidavit that Bustamante placed orders for television time on Monday, the day of McMaster's order.

Bustamante attorney Lance Olson challenged Bienstock's statement: "We can't cancel ads without breaching contracts. There is not a court order telling us to breach a contract."

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