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THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
Aug 04, 2006 - 01:00 AM
by John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer
Angelides puts money on public election finance;
Support could rile candidate's major union contributorsDemocrat Phil Angelides called Thursday for full public financing of California elections, setting up a nasty confrontation with some of the unions that are among his biggest backers in the campaign for governor.
"I believe it's time to return to true democracy,'' Angelides, the state treasurer, said in Oakland, announcing his support for Proposition 89, dubbed the "clean money" initiative.
Success in politics is "not about how much you can raise, but about the power of your ideals," he said.
But a number of Angelides' closest allies, including the California Teachers Association, have joined California business leaders in an unlikely alliance to defeat the initiative.
"We believe there should be a debate about public financing of campaigns, but Prop. 89 is so poorly written we can't have that debate,'' said Becky Voglman, a spokeswoman for the teachers union. "It could severely impact teachers' ability to have a voice in political affairs.''
The teachers union is so concerned about Prop. 89 that it has joined with its longtime political foe, the California Chamber of Commerce, to defeat the initiative.
While the California Teachers Association and other union groups have enthusiastically endorsed Angelides for governor and contributed millions of dollars and untold hours of volunteer help to his campaign, the California Chamber of Commerce backs Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for re-election.
Voglman said Angelides' support for Prop. 89 will have no effect on the help teachers are offering in the governor's race, but it puts him in the middle of what's shaping up to be a bloody battle among labor groups that have been his longtime backers.
At Thursday's news conference, Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, charged that the groups opposed to public financing "either like the status quo or are afraid of change.''
Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, also stoked the flames earlier this week when he suggested that "only a genuine campaign finance overhaul like Prop. 89 could force big labor and big business onto the same team, because no cash-rich special interest will be able to buy the Legislature if Prop. 89 passes.''
The measure would set up a voluntary system providing campaign money to candidates who refuse to accept private contributions. It also would put restrictions on contributions to ballot initiatives and set tight limits on the amount of money that can be given to candidates who don't accept public funding. Businesses would pay the entire $200 million annual cost of the program through a boost in the corporate tax rate.
"It's the right thing for California,'' Angelides said Thursday. "It will help us build a better, stronger and fairer California for generations to come."
Support for the initiative also gives the state treasurer a new platform to attack Schwarzenegger, who opposes the public financing measure.
Schwarzenegger has collected millions in campaign contributions from corporate interests doing business in California and blocked legislation those groups have opposed, Angelides charged.
"For me, this is about making democracy work better for those who need it most,'' he said.
At the same time Angelides is arguing for the need to eliminate private and corporate money from the political system, he is raising millions from many of those same interests for his race against Schwarzenegger. Campaign finance reports released this week show the state treasurer already has spent more than $33 million on his campaign.
This year, Schwarzenegger and Angelides hope to raise a combined $130 million on their campaigns despite a limit on individual contributions of $22,300 for the primary and general elections.
Angelides maintained it would be impossible to beat Schwarzenegger without accepting big-dollar contributions and benefiting from independent expenditures, which are legal under the current contribution rules, even if they would be barred by Prop. 89.
Angelides' support for Prop. 89 "makes him the ultimate hypocrite,'' considering his long record of fundraising, said Matt David, a spokesman for the Schwarzenegger campaign.
While Schwarzenegger argued at a stop in San Francisco last month that "the practice of money in and favors out... is the most horrible thing in politics,'' he has slammed Prop. 89 as a tax on California business.
Ironically, it was last November's special election that set the stage for the split between the nurses and other labor groups. While the nurses regularly turned out hundreds of members for high-profile demonstrations and protests against Schwarzenegger and his package of labor-opposed initiatives, the teachers union spent $58 million to battle the governor's measures with mail pieces, television ads and other high-priced strategies.
While the teachers saw the defeat of Schwarzenegger's plan as an example of what can happen if labor pays to get its message out to voters, the nurses called it a warning of what the future could bring.
"We can't do this every time some harebrained politician wants to put something on the ballot,'' DeMoro said. "You can't do this year after year. We decided to go to the root, which is money.''
Last November, interest groups on both sides spent about $220 million to get their messages out on the eight special election ballot measures.
On the Web:
A summary of Proposition 89 is on the secretary of state's Web site at: www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_j.htm#2006 General
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