Spending on Props. May Set a Record

Times Staff Writers

Indian tribes with casinos, big businesses and parents of sick children have spent more than $125 million to persuade Californians to vote their way Nov. 2 on a raft of ballot measures.

With four weeks to go and many hot issues on the ballot, spending on propositions may hit a record.

The enormous spending also reflects a ballot full of issues in which big money is at stake -- expansion of Indian gambling and card rooms, required health insurance for more businesses, higher taxes and fees to pay for mental health services and emergency rooms, and a $3-billion bond issue to support stem-cell research.

“It’s a huge amount of money,” said Darry Sragow, a Democratic political consultant. “That number is consistent with what it costs to run a campaign in California.”

“In Los Angeles right now,” he said, “you could easily dump somewhere between half a million and a million dollars a week on television.”


The more than $125 million spent so far is not as much as utilities, cigarette companies, Indian tribes and Nevada casino interests spent on propositions on the November 1998 ballot. Those groups spent at least $150 million. But there is a month to go before election day.

Financial reports filed by Tuesday show the magnitude of spending this year and why voters are being swamped with mailers and televisions ads.

By far the biggest sums have been spent on three gambling measures, with card rooms pitted against Indian casinos and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting all of them.

That spending may slow promptly. On Wednesday the backers of one of the gambling measures, Proposition 68, announced that they would stop spending money to promote it.

More than $20 million has also been spent on the campaign for an initiative to invest state money in stem-cell research, which promoters hope will lead to cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases.

Much of this year’s money will be spent on contradictory messages, as six of the 16 propositions are competing measures that may confuse and frustrate voters. Statewide, dueling gambling propositions have dominated the airwaves, as various interests spent more than $10 million a week on radio and television advertising.

Card rooms and racetracks reported having spent $27.7 million on Proposition 68 since the campaign began last year. Though promoters have pulled the plug, the measure will still appear on the ballot.

The measure would permit 11 card rooms and five racetracks to have 30,000 slot machines, breaking Indian tribes’ monopoly on Nevada-style casinos in California.

Seeking to protect their business, tribes that own casinos have raised $33.1 million to defeat Proposition 68, campaign finance reports show.

Two tribes have reported donating $22.5 million to pass a competing measure, Proposition 70. That measure would authorize unlimited expansion of casinos on reservations and require tribes to pay 8.84% of their net revenue to the state.

Stem-cell research that was made ineligible for federal money by President Bush in 2001 would be funded with a $3-billion state bond under Proposition 71. Financial donors to the campaign include biotechnology companies, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Los Angeles developer Eli Broad and Robert Klein II, a Fresno real estate developer whose son suffers from diabetes.

Opponents report less than $50,000 cash on hand. The biggest donor to the anti-Proposition 71 cause has been an Irvine company owned by conservative philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Jr.

California election law would change dramatically or not at all under dueling measures: Proposition 62 would allow the top two vote-getters in a primary election to advance to the general election regardless of what party they represent; Proposition 60, backed by party bosses, would keep the current system in place.

A wide range of businesses that hope to elect more moderate lawmakers through Proposition 62’s open primary system have raised $3.6 million since January, compared with $5,000 reported by the Proposition 60 campaign.

The latest campaign reports also show millions of dollars being sunk into a handful of tight legislative races, where Republicans hope to erode the Democratic majority in the Senate and Assembly.

With some voters already casting absentee ballots, the state Democratic party reported $7 million in cash to spend over the next month, compared with $1 million for the California Republican Party. But since January, the Republicans have spent more -- $13.2 million compared with $9.4 million for Democrats.

“Our races will be fully funded,” said California Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty. “We obviously spent a lot more than the Democrats. That’s due to the fact that we have targeted a number of incumbent seats and we’ve had a very aggressive voter registration project for the past year.”

“Obviously, it’ll be a real horse race to the end,” she said.

The contest for the Senate district that includes Stockton is consuming cash at a record pace. Incumbent Democrat Mike Machado has gotten $1.7 million from the state Democratic party. The opponent, Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto, has gotten more than $778,000 from the California Republican Party. Each candidate is expected to spend more than $3 million before election day.

The two parties are also sinking money into a few other tight races, including the Long Beach Assembly district contest between Democrat Betty Karnette and Republican Steve Kuykendall. In an early example of the last-minute independent campaign contributions, the California Professional Firefighters have given more than $127,000 to Karnette’s campaign to pay for advertising and consulting.

Democratic Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford), who won her seat two years ago by fewer than 300 votes, faces the same challenger this year: Republican businessman Dean Gardner.

This year, unlike in 2002, Democrats have publicized Gardner’s history of paying bills and taxes late. They also accuse him of changing his name and using several variations of it to confuse creditors. The Republican party has backed Gardner with $254,000.

Parra, who is battling accusations that her voting record is too liberal for her district, has gotten nearly half a million dollars from the state Democratic party.

Both parties have contributed more than $100,000 to the candidates in two pitched battles for Assembly seats in San Diego County. Incumbent Republican Shirley Horton faces Chula Vista Councilwoman Patty Davis, a Democrat, for a seat representing the eastern county. On the San Diego coast, Democrat Lori Saldana faces former GOP Assemblywoman Tricia Hunter.

Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the Target Book, which monitors legislative races, predicted that Horton and Davis would end up spending at least a million dollars each before Nov. 2.

“There is no doubt,” he said, “they’re in there with both feet.”