Plan for Unruh Campaign Funds Told : Key Trustee Would Support Political Reform Initiative Next Year

Times Staff Writer

A key trustee of a $1.3-million campaign fund amassed by the late Jesse M. Unruh when he was state treasurer said Wednesday some of the money may be used to help finance a political reform initiative on next year’s primary election ballot.

The trustee, Grover McKean, former chief deputy state treasurer and the executor of Unruh’s estate, said the seven trustees will meet early next year to decide on the disposition of the campaign fund. Unruh died of cancer Aug. 4.

The initiative, sponsored by California Common Cause Executive Director Walter A. Zelman and Walter B. Gerken, chairman of the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co., is designed to curb the escalating cost of running for legislative office and to reduce incumbents’ reliance on special-interest campaign contributions.

If approved by the voters, it would limit legislative contributions and expenditures, authorize partial public financing of campaigns, ban the transfer of funds among legislative candidates, and prohibit contributions in non-election years.


A powerful Democratic Assembly Speaker who unsuccessfully ran for governor against Ronald Reagan, Unruh was a recognized master at political fund-raising who also supported public financing of campaigns.

McKean, now a senior vice president of Lazard, Freres & Co., a Los Angeles investment banking firm, said he had written instructions from Unruh on how the money should be spent.

“He indicated the priorities he saw were No. 1, political campaign finance reform,” McKean said, “and No. 2, his leadership foundation to provide college scholarships for students. No. 3 is if any of his kids run for office to generously support them.”

Asked about the proposed political reform initiative, he said: “I know Unruh liked it. For that reason, I would support giving some of the money to Zelman because that was Unruh’s wish.”


McKean emphasized that he has only one vote on the committee, however, and he does not know what the others would do about spending Unruh’s $1.3 million.

Another trustee, acting state Treasurer Elizabeth Whitney, said, “I want to see something done with this money that Jess would have wanted as a tribute to him.”

Whitney stopped short of saying she definitely would vote to give some of the money to the Zelman-Gerken initiative. But she added she was scheduled to meet with Zelman today to talk about the proposed ballot measure.

“I frankly have not made up my mind yet,” she said, “and I really don’t know what the other trustees are thinking.”


Zelman said, “I know he (Unruh) supported the initiative. I know he wanted to play a significant role in passing it.”

An Unruh estate hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16. “The first priority has to be his estate,” McKean said. “The political stuff comes second.”

Approximately 10 requests for the Unruh campaign funds have been received so far, including bids from the University of Southern California, the Venice Family Clinic, and the Coalition on University Community Services, according to McKean.

Another trustee, Los Angeles lawyer-lobbyist Frank Burns, declined to speculate if he would vote to spend some of the money on the political reform initiative. “I intend to keep my mouth shut for a while,” he said.