Angelides endorses campaign-finance reform

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The San Jose Mercury News (California)

OAKLAND, CA — In a break with some of his party’s most influential supporters, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides said he will endorse the campaign finance-reform initiative on the November ballot.

The initiative, sponsored by the California Nurses Association, would limit campaign contributions and authorize public financing for state candidates. Angelides said he wants to reduce the influence of HMOs, oil companies and tobacco companies in Sacramento.

“When I was a college student, I got involved in politics at a time when what mattered most was your energy and your enthusiasm, not the size of your bank account,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “We have a governor and a state government that’s doing the bidding of those powerful interests.”

The move sets him apart from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said he opposes the type of public financing that would be implemented under Proposition 89.

In an interview at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco earlier this month, Schwarzenegger said he opposes public financing of elections and any tax increases. Proposition 89 would raise corporate taxes by 0.2 percent to help pay for the program.

“I have seen public financing in Europe, and it doesn’t work, either,” the governor said. “So I think that we still, even though our system is not perfect… it is still better when you compare the two systems.”

Matt David, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign, called Angelides’ endorsement of the initiative hypocritical. He pointed to Angelides’ Democratic primary fight this spring against state Controller Steve Westly, when Angelides received millions of dollars in support from a Sacramento land developer.

Angelo Tsakopoulos, a longtime Angelides patron, formed an independent committee with his daughter that spent $8.7 million to boost the state treasurer’s candidacy.

Angelides, who also made millions as a developer, is scheduled to make his official announcement during a Thursday morning news conference at the nurses association’s headquarters in Oakland.

A coalition of business and labor groups, including the California Teachers Association and the California Chamber of Commerce, announced this week they are teaming up to fight the initiative. Both groups are major contributors to political campaigns in California, typically to opposing causes and candidates.

“There are many pressing priorities in our state, but spending tax money on negative campaigns by politicians simply is not one of them,” Chamber President Allen Zaremberg said in a statement. “Mr. Angelides would have received millions of dollars in taxpayer funds in his campaign for governor had Proposition 89 been the law.”

Angelides said he was not worried that his endorsement would anger the state’s largest teachers union because he said teachers know “I’ll do the right thing for our schools and our school kids” if he beats Schwarzenegger in November.

The proposition, modeled after laws in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine, would sharply reduce campaign contribution limits for state races and offer public financing to candidates who choose to forgo trying to raise hefty campaign accounts.

Supporters say it would limit the political influence of wealthy special interest groups.

Nurses union spokesman Chuck Idelson said the initiative “is intended to dramatically reform a broken electoral and political system in California.”

The measure would allow most donors to give no more than $1,000 per election to candidates for governor and $500 per election to legislative candidates. The current limits are $22,300 for governor, $5,600 for other statewide offices and $3,300 for legislative candidates.

Political parties and so-called small donor committees could give more.

The initiative is supported by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has criticized both Republicans and Democrats for taking special interest money.

“The real question is will Gov. Schwarzenegger join him?” said Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica-based foundation. “This is exactly what Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wanted to do — to clean up corruption and end the backroom deals.”

The ballot measure would impose aggregate limits that would curb how much a single donor could give to a group of candidates. It also would provide public financing to candidates who demonstrated significant public support and rejected private donations except to raise a limited amount of campaign startup money.

To qualify, a candidate would have to collect a certain amount of signatures and $5 contributions, which would go into a public financing fund.

The government reform group Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have endorsed the measure.

Consumer Watchdog
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