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Prop. 64 Foes Still Behind in Cash Race

Times Staff Writer

Opponents of Proposition 64, the ballot initiative aimed at curbing lawsuits against businesses, finally are raising some money. But they’re still not close to matching the spending of their corporate foes.

After a slow start, the anti-Proposition 64 coalition comprising public health and consumer groups, registered nurses and environmental and consumer attorneys had raised $513,500 in contributions as of Wednesday. Nearly all of the money came from lawyers.

The modest campaign kitty is dwarfed by the $13 million amassed from large corporations and small businesses pushing to limit the number of lawsuits filed against them under the California Unfair Competition Law. The measure’s backers include oil companies, automakers, car dealers, insurers, high-tech manufacturers and health maintenance organizations.

“They’re outspending us many times over,” said Michael Schmitz, director of the California League for Environmental Enforcement Now. “The pockets we’re up against are so deep.”

Opponents of Proposition 64 said they were determined to collect more than $1.5 million.

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“We’re hoping to raise just enough to get on TV and counter some of the message being put up by the proponents,” said Robin Brewer, executive director of the Consumer Attorneys of California, a trial lawyer trade group.

But bringing in more isn’t easy, said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist in Sacramento for the Sierra Club.

Most trial lawyers aren’t contributing because they don’t make their livings filing unfair-competition cases, he said. Conversely, the public interest groups that use the law to enforce environmental laws don’t have much money to plow into expensive television ads, Magavern said.

Environmental and consumer groups, backed by Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, contend that Proposition 64 would strip them of an important enforcement tool that is used against businesses that allegedly pollute the environment or engage in deceptive advertising.

Proposition 64 would amend the Unfair Competition Law by taking away individuals’ power to sue for false advertising or harmful business practices unless they can prove they have suffered injuries or financial or property losses. Suits on behalf of the public would have to meet stringent class-action criteria.

Money contributed by supporters of the initiative -- much of it in individual contributions of $100,000 or more -- is bankrolling a statewide TV advertising campaign. One ad features an actor playing an unscrupulous attorney who preys upon small businesses by filing frivolous lawsuits. A second dramatization has the owner of an auto repair shop complaining that he had reluctantly paid $2,500 to settle a meritless Unfair Competition Law action.

The initiative’s supporters said they were not surprised that the opponents’ allies in the legal community had finally put up some money.

“I would expect a moderate campaign from them, in the millions but not the tens of millions” of dollars, said Christy Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Proposition 64 campaign.

Although little public polling has been done, early results indicate that the anti-Proposition 64 forces may be winning the battle for votes. An Aug. 14 Field Poll showed likely voters opposing Proposition 64 by a ratio of 2 to 1, with 38% of those asked saying they were undecided.


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