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CALIFORNIA FOCUS: Why The Rush To a Special Election?:

Has anyone stopped to wonder why Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a headlong rush to stage a special election for his pet propositions in November, when the state’s primary election will follow just a few months later?

Surely the governor is as aware as anyone that a special election would cost this cash-strapped state at least $26 million. How many schoolbooks could that buy?

Make no mistake, Schwarzenegger wants the changes he bills as reforms and he wants them right away. But even if they passed in November, the key measures he threatens to take to the people if legislators don’t pass them could not take effect until after the June, 2006 primary. Time would be too short to put newly drawn legislative and congressional districts into effect. And the across-the-board budget cutting he also seeks could not take effect until next summer, no matter what.

So what’s up?

Most likely, someone near the governor has read California election laws. Starting next year, those laws forbid any committee funding an initiative campaign from accepting donations above $25,000 from any one person or entity if the committee runs TV commercials featuring a candidate who is on the same ballot with the initiative in question.

If, as most expect, Schwarzenegger seeks reelection next year, he would share a June ballot with all his putative initiatives — and his TV exposure in commercials for them would be limited. If there is no special election this fall.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has already launched a campaign to raise $50 million for his propositions from corporations across America. At some events, he’s asking $100,000 for dinner and a photo. If contributions were limited to $25,000 per person or entity, he could quickly forget the $50 million goal and the $100,000-a-pop price tags, notes Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Court contends this is the real reason for the governor’s hurry to put his measures on the ballot next fall, with his mug all over your TV screen to push them, and never mind what it costs the state. No one offers a better explanation.

Schwarzenegger and his financial backers have even devised a new campaign committee tailor-made to get around limits of the year-2000 Proposition 34 – if there’s a special election this year and not next.

They needed to do something a bit different after the state Fair Political Practices Commission ruled last year there is no practical difference between proposition-oriented committees controlled by candidates and committees explicitly dedicated to their election and reelection. That ruling extended fund-raising limits for state candidates to Schwarzenegger’s several committees after last fall’s election.

The new wrinkle: a campaign committee Schwarzenegger doesn’t control, but for which he raises funds from all his usual donors, including pharmaceutical companies, cellphone providers, car dealers and developers, plus new donors around the nation. While the new committee will use the governor’s personality and charisma, he will not be in formal control of any money it raises.

Rather, the new Citizens to Save California (from what? from whom?) will nominally be run by a board of directors all of whose members are close Schwarzenegger allies. The group includes Allen Zaremberg, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, and William Hauck, president of the California Business Roundtable.

Also on the board are Joel Fox, former president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and his successor in that job, Jon Coupal. All insist the new committee will be independent and is not the end run around rules that it seems to be.

“Yes, we have similar feelings to the governor’s on many things,” says Fox. “But we won’t necessarily go down the line with him on absolutely everything. No doubt, though, we do hope to use his great ability to inspire people.”

Adds Martin Wilson, Schwarzenegger’s chief fund raiser, “As I understand it, this becomes a controlled committee if the governor or his agents exercise substantial control over its spending decisions. He will not.”

But Wilson and Fox agree that Schwarzenegger will “make appearances and appeals for the new committee and offer opinions” on how and where its money should be spent.

Schwarzenegger, thus, is careful to operate within the letter of the law. But when he “offers opinions” on where and how to spend money raised through his appearances and energy, does anyone seriously think any suggestion he makes will be rejected?

Which means the governor and his friends may be doing precisely what the law requires while totally violating its spirit and its intent of isolating officeholders from big money interests seeking to control state policy.

They need an election date this year to do all this. Which explains the big rush.

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