CAMPAIGN JOURNAL : Ruling Has Political Consultants Reeling


A federal judge's order striking down campaign contribution limits has sent an entire industry reeling--the people who put together political campaigns.

With only six weeks left before the election, these advisers, consultants and professional fund-raisers are like soldiers in the middle of combat, with no time to stop and consider their wounds.

Some are angry. Most are cautious. All admit that they are confused about what they are permitted to do.

At a time when they should be preparing television spots and mail advertising, they find themselves consulting with lawyers about how they might be affected by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton's ruling striking down voter-approved fund-raising limits in Proposition 73.

"I run campaigns for a living and I have to live with this," said veteran Democratic political consultant Richie Ross. "This is not an intellectual exercise for me. I want clear rules. Now I don't have any clear rules."

Ross, who is running the campaign for two legislative candidates as well as a number of local races, said it is almost too late for him to respond to the changes, even if they become clear. "I've got strategies in place, I've got television produced, I'm up to my eyebrows getting things done. I can't rethink it."

Under Karlton's ruling, there appears to be no limit to the amount of money that individuals or groups can give to statewide candidates. Proposition 73 imposed a $1,000 ceiling on individual contributions received by candidates during each fiscal year and banned transfers of money between campaigns.

Republican campaign consultant Gary Huckaby speaks of the immediate effect of Karlton's decision: "Twenty-four hours later, I can honestly say there's mass confusion." Huckaby, whose firm is managing legislative races for two GOP candidates, said he is particularly concerned that the court ruling could restore the ability to transfer money from one campaign treasury to another--an interpretation that Huckaby says would benefit Democrats such as Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.

Others share Huckaby's frustration.

"Once again (the ruling) means we throw thousands and thousands of dollars at lawyers to tell us what to do," said Democratic political campaign consultant David Townsend. "We don't know what rules to go by so now everybody is static. It's thrown everybody's time line off. . . . Coming in the last week in September, that's pretty damn tough on a campaign."

Los Angeles attorney Karl Samuelian, one of the state's top GOP fund-raisers, said he was baffled by Karlton's decision to issue the ruling so close to the Nov. 6 election. "This decision coming out of a federal court at this late hour just causes mass confusion and chaos in campaigns," said Samuelian, who is finance chairman for the state Republican Party and has raised money for all the Republican candidates for statewide office.

But Samuelian says fund-raisers are concerned about asking for more money when the court ruling could be reversed.

"I'm not going to call a potential major contributor and ask him to write a check for $100,000," Samuelian said. "Not right today."

Nonetheless, campaign attorney Lance Olson is advising statewide campaigns that the lid is off and they may collect as much as they can from contributors.

"That's the law at the moment," Olson said, "and if they don't take it, they may be foolish, because an opponent is probably already taking it."

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