Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch–already controversial for his political giving–has made personal contributions of $ 1 million to the California Republican Party, including $ 750,000 this month alone. According to public documents filed Friday by the state GOP, the party also got a personal contribution Oct. 2 of $ 500,000 from George Joseph, head of the Mercury insurance company.
Los Angeles Times
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch–already controversial for his political giving–has made personal contributions of $ 1 million to the California Republican Party, including $ 750,000 this month alone.
A party leader said that the money will be spent before the Nov. 5 election with the aim of maintaining Republican control of the state Assembly, winning control of the state Senate and killing several initiatives.
The contributions, among the largest ever made to the party, stirred outrage and concern among state Democratic leaders.
"When individuals write checks of that magnitude, it should alarm all Californians,' said Senate Democratic Leader Bill Lockyer. "I think it reinforces the point that we've been making that they are the party of the rich and privileged."
John Peschong, executive director of the California GOP, said none of the money will be spent to advance Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative.
Murdoch, who gave the $ 750,000 on Oct. 7 and the other $ 250,000 earlier, has among his many media properties controlling interests in 20th Century Fox Studios, the Fox Television Network, the London Times and the New York Post.
In all, state Republicans reported raising nearly $ 10.2 million and spending about $ 8.8 million this year through Oct. 17.That includes $ 4.3 million from the Republican National Committee. State Democrats reportedly collected $ 11.4 million and spent about $ 10 million. About half of their contributions came from the Democratic National Committee.
The GOP's Peschong said of Murdoch on Friday: "He likes us. He wants to see pro-business legislation passed in California."
Murdoch and Joseph are "businessmen who want to make sure California has a business-friendly environment, that the Democrats don't destroy our economy," the GOP official said.
Gov. Pete Wilson's press secretary, Sean Walsh, said Wilson is "extremely pleased . . . . On the ballot are some of the largest job-killing initiatives in a generation in California. We're pleased that job creators have decided to stand up and fight for their companies and their employees with resources, those resources being substantial campaign contributions."
In condemning "job-killing initiatives," Walsh named Proposition 207 on legal fees, 210 on raising the minimum wage, 211 on expanding the right to sue for securities fraud, 214 and 216 on increased health care regulation and 217 on high-income tax rates.
But Democrats and consumer advocates said the contributions represent some of the worst of state politics this year. "This is the ultimate evidence of special interest influence," said Lockyer, (D-Hayward).
The Assembly minority leader, Democrat Richard Katz, charged that Joseph's contribution is "an insurance industry payback for legislation that we helped kill this year that was anti-consumer."
Katz said the Murdoch and Joseph contributions are "obviously a significant amount of money, and it will have an impact."
Katz and Lockyer said Joseph has explicitly told Democratic leaders he wants legislation passed next year that would reinstitute auto insurance redlining in urban neighborhoods.
Joseph did not return several telephone calls seeking comment.
A Murdoch spokeswoman in New York, Marsha Horowitz, stressed that the contribution was personal and that Murdoch's company, News Corp., did not make the contribution.
"He cannot be reached for comment and I have no information other than that," she said.
Peschong said that although the Murdoch and Joseph contributions are among the biggest in the state party's history, they are not a record. Two 1984 contributions from sources he did not identify were larger, he said.
Peschong said he was not free to discuss the exact circumstances of soliciting the contributions, but he called Murdoch "a great man" and called Joseph public-spirited.
But the director of California Common Cause, Ruth Holton, called the gifts "not healthy at all" and noted that under Proposition 208, which her organization is sponsoring, they would have been limited to $ 5,000 each.
Insurance reform leader Harvey Rosenfield, meanwhile, said he sees the main aim as electing backers of big business.
State GOP Chairman John Herrington said, however, the Democrats are being hypocritical.
"They sometimes raise far more money than we do," he said. "We don't have any $ 100,000 dinners with movie stars like Barbra Streisand. Bill Clinton can roll into the Westside of Los Angeles and raise $ 4 million or $ 5 million anytime he wants."
Word of the Murdoch contribution came as a controversy raged in New York over his political connections to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In a battle over putting his new Fox cable news channel on New York Cable television, the mayor has supported Murdoch. Fox cable's rival, Ted Turner, has charged that Murdoch has "bought the government of New York City."
With his Fox Television and 20th Century interests, Murdoch–Australian-born but a U.S. citizen for a decade–has become a major property owner in California. In 1992 he purchased a $ 7-million Los Angeles estate once owned by MCA founder Jules Stein.
Joseph has been perhaps the most influential insurance executive in California for many years. He is on a first-name basis with leaders in both political parties.