When he wrote the line, "What's in a name?" Shakespeare probably never saw its political implications. But then, if the playwright were alive today, he might agree that hell hath no fury like an independent committee scorned.
Using humor to make its point, an independent committee that hopes to defeat San Diego City Councilman Ed Struiksma has devised a play on words in an attempt to circumvent a court ruling limiting the contributions it receives.
Officials in the San Diego County district attorney's office think the whole thing is a joke. Nevertheless, they weren't laughing Monday, and said that, if the group delivers the punch line, it may find itself back in court.
Last week, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled that the Dump Ed Campaign '89 was bound by the city's $250-per-person contribution limit, a decision that forced the group to return a $2,500 check from a Linda Vista landlord. Noting that the committee was called "Dump Ed . . . not Citizens for a Pretty San Diego," Judge William Mudd said that its very name--and the fact that Struiksma was its only target--also raised questions about its independence.
That decision may have gutted the group's campaign treasury, but not its leaders' sense of humor. Monday, the treasurer of the Dump Ed group announced the formation of a new independent committee--this one called the Dump Anyone Named Ed Committee.
"Well, they can't say we're only dealing with Struiksma any more," said Mark Zerbe, tongue firmly in cheek. "Our horizon has broadened to include any Eds in politics."
Insisting that he is serious, Zerbe said the group has mailed a so-called statement of organization to the county registrar of voters office and the state Fair Political Practices Commission. And, even as the new group begins to solicit unlimited contributions, the old Dump Ed Campaign '89 will continue to accept donations within the $250 limit, Zerbe added.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Rodger Overholser, who prosecuted the case against the original Dump Ed committee last week, reacted with a mixture of disbelief, grudging admiration for a good joke--even one partly at his expense--and, perhaps most significantly, legal questions about the new group's plans.
"My initial reaction is, I can't believe this is serious," Overholser said. "It's so silly. This seems like junior-high stuff."
Should the new group proceed with its intention to accept contributions above $250, it "probably" would face legal problems, Overholser said.
"I can't imagine a contributor saying, I want to give to this committee because I don't like people named Ed," Overholser said. "I don't understand why they're trying so hard to skirt this law instead of going out and getting legitimate contributions."
Zerbe, however, stressed that, despite the episode's humorous overtones, he is seeking to make a very serious point about what he regards as selective enforcement of the city's campaign laws.
The Building Committee Political Action Committee, Zerbe noted in a letter to Overholser, has accepted contributions in excess of $250, yet has not been prosecuted. City and county election officials, however, have said that the builders' group is not subject to the limit because it supports a number of candidates.
Although disagreeing with that distinction, Zerbe contends--again with a half-serious argument--that, by that standard, the new Dump Anyone Named Ed Committee also should be exempt from the $250 contribution ceiling. In his letter to Overholser, Zerbe asked for an official ruling on that question by Wednesday.
"There are a lot of Eds in politics," Zerbe said, chuckling slightly. "We'll be opposing numerous candidates, too. . . . It's not fair to force Struiksma's opponents to follow one set of rules and let his supporters do whatever they want."
By forming as a county, rather than city, political committee, the Dump Anyone Named Ed Committee also will be able to conceal the source of its contributions until after next week's council elections--as the Building Industry PAC has done. Although city political groups were required to file a campaign finance report last week, county groups have until January to file their reports.
"Just renaming a committee doesn't change the situation," Overholser said. "I mean, what other Eds are there on the ballot?"
Recognizing a good straight line when he hears it, Zerbe pounced on that remark.
"You don't have to look any farther than the D.A.'s office for the answer to that," Zerbe replied.
Overholser's boss is Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller, who faces a reelection campaign next year.