California effort to alter '08 race stalls
The initiative promised to end the winner-take-all system. Now there's no money to solicit voter signatures.
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"The Democrats did a very good job of frightening away potential donors," says Dan Schnur, a former Republican consultant who teaches political communication at University of California, Berkeley and the University of Southern California. "The hiring of people to counter petition-gatherers on the street is a very aggressive pushback. Getting donors to step out in public while that is going on in the early going is a challenge."Skip to next paragraph
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Heading up the opposition against the initiative has been Democratic consultant Chris Lehane, former press secretary to Al Gore and spokesman for Californians for Fair Election Reform. His push was backed by wealthy donors, including real estate investor and movie producer Stephen Bing, who is supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.
Last week, it was revealed that Paul Singer, a billionaire hedge-fund executive and a major New York fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani had donated the $175,000 to initiative proponents. He had given the money to "Take Initiative America," a company formed by a lawyer based in Missouri.
By the time Mr. Singer's identity came out, opponents had cast doubt on the operation because the Missouri corporation didn't fully disclose the source.
Foes, such as Mr. Lehane, threatened legal action, claiming that the donation violated federal campaign-finance laws if the Giuliani campaign could be linked to it. "If you're a presidential candidate, you or your agents can't direct money to a campaign that impacts the presidential campaign … and there's no better way to rig the campaign than to impact the electoral college system," Lehane says.
Giuliani has denied any link between his campaign and Singer's donation to the initiative; no connection has been proven. Even so, the damage was done.
"It became a situation in which we needed transparency to effectively advocate our position, and we were not served by keeping things secret or shadowy," says Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the initiative campaign told the Monitor before he resigned Thursday. "Although we never had anything to hide, certainly having this unfold this way was going to make fundraising more difficult."
Analysts point to several other reasons for the initiative's failure to gain traction. A recent San Francisco Chronicle poll showed the percent of people supporting it dropped to 25 percent. Organizers did not allow themselves sufficient time to gather signatures. And state Republicans, notably Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rep. Dan Lungren, came out against the initiative.
"To me, what we have in place works," said Mr. Schwarzenegger. "I feel like if you all of a sudden in the middle of the game start changing the rules, it's kind of odd."
National Democratic leaders, Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California also took aim at the measure, comparing the tactics used to those employed in the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" campaign, which attacked Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry in 2004.