Fund-Raisers Have Poor Luck With Measure R

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Less than two weeks before voters decide the fate of the proposed half-cent sales tax increase, contributions to the campaign committees on both sides of the Measure R debate are running significantly below predictions, campaign officials confirmed.

Supporters of Measure R originally hoped to raise $3 million to $3.5 million for the campaign. But Mike Stockstill, a top Yes on Measure R official, said the campaign is now looking at a budget of about $1.5 million.

Stockstill and others said the campaign has received fewer contributions than expected from Wall Street firms and bondholders.

"I don't think there has been a huge tidal wave" of contributions from Wall Street, said Stephen B. Ward, chief investment officer and senior vice president of portfolio management for Charles Schwab Inc. As of May 13, when the latest campaign finance reporting statements were filed, the San Francisco-based investment firm had contributed $150,000 to Yes on Measure R.

Ward said Measure R supporters made a push several weeks ago to get contributions from bondholders. "That has borne some fruit. But it has been a little disappointing," he said.

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The campaign is scheduled to release data today on contributions through June 10. Through May 13, the Yes on Measure R campaign had raised $582,578. A second pro-Measure R group, Public Safety for Yes on R, raised $40,573 through June 10.

Anti-Measure R forces also are below their fund-raising goals. The two main No on Measure R campaigns raised a total of $74,000 through June 10. Anti-tax leaders had forecast fund-raising of between $300,000 and $600,000.

Both supporters and opponents of the tax increase stressed Thursday that it was too early to tell how much their campaigns would collect by June 27, when voters go to the polls.

Mark Thompson, a consultant to Citizen Against the Tax Increase, said he was "very comfortable" with fund-raising so far, noting that other groups, including the county Republican Party, plan anti-Measure R activities that will supplement his group's efforts.

Stu Mollrich, a consultant to the Yes on Measure R campaign, said, "We're continuing to raise money. We're getting money every day and we're trying to get as much as possible."

But other Yes on Measure R campaign officials have acknowledged that fund-raising is lagging far behind expectations.

Stockstill addressed the issue last Friday during a meeting in Sacramento with the California Assn. of Realtors Impact Trustees, a political action committee.

Stockstill spoke in favor of a request by the Huntington Beach/Fountain Valley Assn. of Realtors that the statewide group contribute $25,000 to the Yes on Measure R campaign. After considering the request, the trustees decided not to make the contribution.

Stockstill said planners had originally expected Wall Street firms and bondholders to provide a quarter of the campaign's funds, with developers and realtors contributing another 25%.

John Erskine, a Yes on Measure R co-chairman, said gaining donations from big business is simply more difficult today than it was in the 1980s. He said that while many business leaders see a need for Measure R, others lack "the traditional enthusiasm" to give money to political causes.

Mollrich said Thursday that Yes on Measure R officials remain "very aggressive" about seeking contributions. He noted that political campaigns "always raise less than you hope because you hope for a lot. . . . We're raising as much as we can. More is always better."

Measure R backers have said that a healthy campaign war chest is required to educate the public about the need for the sales tax increase, which is the cornerstone of county Chief Executive Officer William J. Popejoy's bankruptcy recovery plan. Measure R would increase the county sales tax from 7.75% to 8.25% for up to 10 years.

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A recent Times Orange County Poll found that among likely voters, 50% opposed Measure R, 37% supported it and 13% were undecided.

Some tax critics, including No on Measure R campaign head Robert G. Ault, said it's important not to underestimate the fund-raising powers of the pro-R forces. "You can bet you'll see some major campaigning in the last five to seven days," he said.

But others said the fund-raising troubles of their opponents could indicate that business leaders believe Measure R will fail.

"We are having a hard time raising money because obviously we don't need it, and they are having a hard time because it won't have any impact," said developer Buck Johns, a leader of Citizens Against the Tax Increase.

* STANTON OPPOSES TAX HIKE: Supervisor promises alternative plan to Measure R. A43

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