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Giuliani friend funded GOP's electoral plan

A finance chairman for the presidential hopeful acknowledges he gave the mystery $175,000 to the California proposal.

September 29, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

sacramento -- A confidant of Republican presidential contender Rudolph W. Giuliani, and one of the candidate's biggest donors, was the source of a mystery $175,000 donation to a stalled initiative proposal seen as an attempt to help the GOP win a portion of California's 55 electoral votes.

New York hedge fund billionaire Paul E. Singer issued a statement Friday acknowledging that he gave the six-figure gift, ending speculation over its secrecy and fanning criticism of the Giuliani campaign.

Giuliani said he knew nothing about it, and his spokeswoman, Maria Comella, called the contribution "completely independent from our campaign."

Singer oversees Elliott Associates, a Wall Street investment fund, and is chairman of Giuliani's Northeast fundraising operation. Singer and people who work for Singer-related entities donated at least $182,000 to Giuliani in the first six months of the year, a Times review of Giuliani's campaign finance statements shows. One of his companies leases jets used by the GOP front-runner. Singer also is one of the former New York mayor's advisors and friends.

To the consternation of Democrats, the Singer-backed initiative campaign sought to end California's winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes, dispensing them to candidates who won each of the state's congressional districts -- 19 of which are held by Republicans.

Foes of the proposed initiative threatened legal action over the donation, contending that federal campaign finance law was violated if the Giuliani campaign had any role in it.

In his statement, Singer made no mention of his relationship with Giuliani. Rather, he said he contributed to the California measure because he believed "in proportional voting in the electoral college."

"I made the contribution without any restrictions, including whether or how it would need to be disclosed," said Singer's statement, first disclosed by the New York Daily News and later obtained by The Times. "I left disclosure completely up to the committee."

There are strict caps on the size of direct donations to presidential candidates. But donors can give unlimited sums to initiatives and other campaigns that, though not directly controlled by candidates, could benefit them or harm their foes.

Giuliani, in California to raise money, said Friday that he had no part in the initiative campaign or the donation.

"I have no knowledge of it. I have no knowledge of it, internally. I mean I see what I see in the newspapers. I have no knowledge of it, like, we never discussed it internally," Giuliani said.

Singer's $175,000 contribution was dated Sept. 11 and funneled through a corporation, Take Initiative America. Attorney Charles A. Hurth III, of Union, Mo., a small town 50 miles outside St. Louis, created the company on Sept. 10.

Neither Hurth nor Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell, who also represents the newly created corporation, would discuss the donation. Jonathan Wilcox, spokesman for Take Initiative America, said Friday that he was not sure about the "genesis of the relationship," if any, between Singer and Hurth.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who organized a campaign to oppose the now-dormant measure, said Singer's acknowledgment that he gave the donation "puts this money-laundering operation directly inside the Rudy Giuliani campaign."

Lehane said Giuliani's statement that he did not know about the donation "does not pass the straight-face test." Lehane is a former Clinton White House official who is backing Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Amid the controversy, the initiative campaign seemed to be faltering badly by week's end. Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who wrote the proposed initiative and was its chief proponent, resigned Thursday along with the campaign's spokesman Kevin Eckery, in part because of the secrecy surrounding the donation. Also on Friday, Mike Arno, who was heading the petition drive, said he ended his signature-gathering effort.

Giuliani said Friday that he believed he had a 50-50 chance of winning the popular vote in California and wouldn't mind leaving California's current electoral system intact.

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dan.morain@latimes.com

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