Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Corporate donors buy democracy

Eight big donors prop up Prop. 75

Campaign finance filing shows business groups fund move to limit public employee unions.

By Andy Furillo -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Eight major donors accounted for more than half of the financial support for an initiative that would restrict public employee unions' political spending, according to campaign finance reports made public Monday.
The contributions were funneled into the Yes on Proposition 75 campaign through the Small Business Action Committee, whose leader is closely tied to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Ameriquest Capital, of Orange, gave SBAC $250,000. The California Business Properties Association's issues committee contributed $200,000. The New Majority Political Action Committee, which represents moderate Republican business owners, came in at $150,000. Wal-Mart heir John T. Walton, who died in a June 27 plane crash, contributed $100,000.

Other large contributors included Eureka mortgage broker Robin P. Arkley II ($100,000), Los Angeles investment banker Frank Baxter ($75,000), Beverly Hills businesswoman Paula Kent Meehan ($50,000) and the Watson Land Co. of Carson ($10,000).

Opponents of the initiative, which would require public employee unions to obtain the annual written consent of their members before spending their dues money on political purposes, have accused the committee of trying to hide its funding sources in the run-up to the Nov. 8 special election. They also suggested that the disproportionate share of the group's political cash belies its name.

"The voters know that the people behind Proposition 75 are more interested in increasing the power of corporations," No on 75 spokeswoman Sarah Leonard said.

But Small Business Action Committee head Joel Fox said the group collected 150 more contributions from small donors and that two of its bigger backers - the New Majority and the business properties PACs - are made up of substantial numbers of smaller contributors.

"Obviously, we had a handful of donors who made the majority of the donations," said Fox, who in the past has worked as a senior policy consultant to Schwarzenegger. "But that's not unusual in our business."

The eight donors accounted for $935,000, or 99 percent, of the $945,000 the committee has raised this year. A total of $555,000 of it went to the Coalition for Employee Rights, accounting for more than half of the $927,798 raised to gather petition signatures for Proposition 75. The state Republican Party gave $200,000 to the initiative.

The business committee, meanwhile, also gave $255,000 to the Californians for Fair Elections, which supported the redistricting initiative.

The No on 75 committee was formed after June 30 and was not subject to Monday's disclosure deadlines. But the secretary of state's records show that the Proposition 75 opponents have received more than $2 million from the Alliance for a Better California, a recipient committee funded mostly by labor unions and controlled by Democratic operatives.

"The alliance has a lot more money than we do," said Coalition for Employee Rights organizer Lew Uhler. "All this poor-mouthing about us being on the receiving end of corporate largesse is just ludicrous."

About the writer:

The Bee's Andy Furillo can be reached at (916) 321-1141 or afurillo@sacbee.com.
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