Friday, June 02, 2006

CA Gov's Race: Angelides Exploits Loophole Created by Schwarzenegger

As Dan Morain reports in the Los Angeles Times, California democratic gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides is using a number of committees to evade California's campaign contributions limits.

This week, Angelides' "Yes on 82, Standing Up for California" committee is sending mailers out to voters encouraging them to vote yes on Proposition 82 on Tuesday's ballot. The mailers, replete with warm-n-fuzzy photos of Angelides with kids, do not mention the fact that Angelides happens to be on the same ballot, but their intent is clear: to boost Phil Angelides the week prior to a tight primary election against fellow candidate Steve Westly, who has spent more than $30 million of his own fortune on the race to date.

Angelides' Yes on 82 committee got all of its money from another Angelides' committee - Standing Up for California, which received most of its money in donations over California's legal contribution limits for gubernatorial candidates - a vertiginous $22,300 per election (the primary and general ballots count as separate elections). Its donors include Steve Bing ($250,000), the Laborer's Political League ($250,000), and Eleni Tsakapolous ($250,000).

The irony is, until Governor Schwarzenegger filed a lawsuit against California's state watchdog last year, this kind of blatant evasion of California's contribution limits was illegal. But because Schwarzenegger wanted to raise unlimited donations to finance his special election last year, he took the Fair Political Practices Commission to court to strike its regulation applying candidate contribution limits to the ballot committees they control.

Schwarzenegger was ultimately successful, paving the way for Angelides, who could easily be Schwarzenegger's opponent this fall, to use his Standing Up For California slush fund to boost his electoral chances.

A longtime Democratic fundraiser and insider, Angelides is clearly the more sophisticated manipulator of the loopholes in California's campaign finance laws amongst the democratic primary candidates. Not only is he using his ballot slush fund to evade contribution limits, but Angelides is also benefiting from a massive "independent" tv ad campaign (nearing the $10 million mark) by his mentor, patron, and partner Angelo Tsakapolous (the father of the aforementioned Eleni).

Westly, on the other hand, has not learned the myriad ways that California's campaign laws, written by politicians to pre-empt a previous reform-minded law, allow wealthy interests to dominate elections in the Golden State. Westly's massive spending of his own fortune on a blizzard of tv ads was initially effective, but in the long run may turn out to be a boorish bull-in-the-china shop approach that ultimately loses to Angelides' political insider finesse.

One thing is for sure, California's elections continue to be bought and sold by the very rich in this state. Much like the citizens of Tokyo watching Mothra and Godzilla battle it out in the skies above, the rest of us stand burnt-out and aghast at the current political battle of the airwaves.

The city may be destroyed, ablaze and in ruins, but we simply do not have a horse in this race. That is still a privilege which belongs only to the select few whose lucre is capable of feeding these heaving beasts. But it will be we who inherit their mess.

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