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California and the West

Prop. 87 Backers Sue Foes' Group

September 15, 2006|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — It's lawsuit time again in the battle over Proposition 87, the environmental initiative that would slap a $400-million-a-year tax on oil production in California.

Californians for Clean Energy, the group backing Proposition 87, on Thursday sued opponent group Californians Against Higher Taxes in Sacramento County Superior Court. The complaint claims that the oil companies that have poured $35 million into television and print advertisements are violating campaign disclosure laws.

But the opponent group denies it. Spokesman Bill George called the lawsuit a diversion.

"It is very clear who is in our coalition," George said.

The suit alleges that the group's disclosures in its print and television advertisements create the false impression that it is financed by a broad coalition, including educators and public-safety officials.

It argues that the campaign group did not comply with a requirement to explicitly identify its two top contributors -- Chevron Corp. and Aera Energy. Aera is a joint venture of Exxon Mobile Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell.

The lawsuit seems to have merit, said Robert Fellmeth, director of the Center for Public Interest Law at the University of San Diego. The opponents of Proposition 87 "are really trying to hide as much as possible" that their financial backing is from oil companies, he said.

The lawsuit is the latest round of litigation surrounding the proposed tax, which would fund research and development of alternative fuels for vehicles.

Last month, Californians Against Higher Taxes sued Californians for Clean Energy, accusing the group of illegally redirecting Internet searches for information about opposing views to a Yes on 87 website.

The Yes on 87 campaign has raised $22 million, the bulk from Hollywood producer Steve Bing, to pay for its own TV ad blitz.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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