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San Jose Mercury News (California)
Feb 11, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Ann E. Marimow; Mercury News Sacramento Bureau

Demos endorse Props. 57, 58;

STATE PARTY BACKS GOVERNOR'S MARCH 2 BUDGET-BALANCING PLAN
SACRAMENTO -- The California Democratic Party on Tuesday officially endorsed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's March ballot initiatives, reinforcing bipartisan packaging for the measures that are crucial for the governor's budget-balancing plan.

Democrats overwhelmingly supported the $15 billion bond and spending-limit plan in the Legislature, even though they declined to endorse the measures -- Propositions 57 and 58, respectively -- at their convention last month.

''This is the smartest and cheapest way to find solutions to deal with our debt,'' said new Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, on the steps of the Capitol.

The party's endorsement -- along with U.S. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's support, announced Tuesday -- is key because statewide surveys show tepid voter support for the bond with only three weeks remaining before the March 2 election.

Schwarzenegger's communications director, Rob Stutzman, called the party's endorsement ''the clearest indication that this is a bipartisan effort, that partisan rancor is set aside.''

The announcement came on the day Schwarzenegger's political team began airing the first of a series of television commercials, which will run statewide through Election Day, and a radio ad. The TV ad projects an upbeat message -- delivered alternately by Schwarzenegger and the campaign co-chair, Democratic Controller Steve Westly -- accompanied by a soothing soundtrack, without the dire warnings of tax increases and deep spending cuts the pair have often sounded on the campaign trail.

One consumer group filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, contending that the commercials intentionally hide the sources of special-interest funding. Campaign representatie Todd Harris called the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights' complaint ''ridiculous.''

Roughly $12 billion from the bond would cover the shortfall in the current budget. An additional $3 billion would ease the deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1. The companion measure would require the Legislature to pass a balanced budget.

At the press conference Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, said, ''Deficit financing is not the best way to go forward, but unless we find a very big bank to rob, there is no other way at this time.''

It is not clear how vigorously Democratic legislators will campaign for the measures beyond Tuesday's endorsement.

Schwarzenegger's ads, which will cost millions to broadcast statewide for the next three weeks, list two sources of funding: Californians for a Balanced Budget -- Yes on 57 & 58 and Governor Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights argued Tuesday that the governor is skirting the intention of Proposition 208. The 1996 voter-approved measure requires that ads for or against ballot initiatives name ''any person whose cumulative contributions'' are $50,000 or more.

Because Californians for a Balanced Budget is funded largely through $2 million transferred from the governor's California Recovery Team, the ads do not list the insurance, real estate, energy and other companies and executives who have contributed generously to the latter committee.

''Voters need to know who is behind a ballot measure when they are deciding how to vote,'' said Carmen Balber of the consumer group.

Campaign committees, like Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team or CRT, disclose contributions within 24 hours to the Secretary of State's Office. ''It's ridiculous. Anyone who wants to know who is funding the CRT will find that information readily available'' online, said Harris. ''To suggest that the money is being hidden from the public is just a bald-faced lie.''

But Bob Stern of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies said Proposition 208 was intended to give voters information about major donors during ads, not send viewers to their computers to search for names later.

''That's a little disingenuous,'' Stern said. ''The purpose was so the voters didn't have to go find it.''
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Contact Ann E. Marimow at amarimow@mercurynews.com




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