Their creed is to crash politicians’ fundraisers

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Sacramento Bee

Former teacher Margie Metzler isn’t the type of lady who crashes parties.

But at age 62, she’s making an exception for a cause.

Metzler became one of the first three contestants in the “Crashing the Dash for Cash” contest outside the Capitol on Wednesday and got kicked out of three fundraisers, including one held on behalf of her own assemblyman.

“That’s the whole point,” Metzler said later with a smile after being asked to leave an art gallery on 11th Street.

Sponsored by a group advocating a campaign finance measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, the “Dash for Cash” contest takes a reality TV-style approach to highlight the need for stricter contribution limits.

The sponsor, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), is giving away a pair of Sacramento Kings tickets to the person who can crash the most political fundraisers between now and the end of the legislative session Aug. 31.

The foundation has even set up a mock Web station at featuring a reporter interviewing lobbyists at fundraisers.

To earn credit, contestants have to get pictures of themselves at the event. They get double points if they appear in a picture with a politician.

Organizers encourage contestants to cajole, sweet talk and shame politicians into letting them inside without paying the hefty entrance fee — up to the maximum allowable contribution of $3,300 in some cases. However, physical force is frowned upon.

As the legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers are holding dozens of fundraisers around the Capitol as they consider an estimated 1,500 bills still pending. Some of the most hotly contested bills relate to cable television deregulation, health insurance coverage for all Californians and global warming.

“The reason that it’s happening right now is not because lobbyists want to pay $3,000 for a doughnut or a piece of shrimp. They’re paying because they want access and influence,” said Doug Heller, executive director of the foundation.

“If you want to understand why there’s so much bickering over cable deregulation or the minimum-wage bill, or global warming issues, just try to get into one of these fundraisers and see who’s attending the real events in Sacramento,” Heller said.

Heller estimated $1 million would be raised for politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the 24 events planned for Wednesday.

Metzler, Mary Ellen Asebedo, a nurse, and Chico resident Mike Welch first walked into the Sutter Club on Ninth Street, where Assemblyman Roger Niello was holding a $1,000-per-head fundraiser. Even out-of-towners were raising money. Across the hallway, a fundraiser was being held for Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Miss.

The trio, escorted by Heller and the crew of Channel 89, didn’t make it past the reception table.

“It actually made up my mind about voting for him,” Metzler later said of the Republican from Fair Oaks.

Niello, who didn’t witness the event because he hadn’t yet arrived, said he would have gladly met his constituent.

“I have a policy that I will meet with anybody that wants to come in,” Niello said in an interview afterward. “If that lady wants to meet with me, I will absolutely meet with her.”

Niello said all of his contributions are disclosed properly through the secretary of state. He said he favors full and instant disclosure of all contributions, rather than the current system of limits and restrictions, which he believes is more cumbersome.

“Sunshine is the best approach,” Niello said.

Next up was Assemblyman Hector De La Torre’s campaign at the Smith Gallery at noon.

At first, the crashers were welcomed as guests to the South Gate Democrat’s fundraiser, probably because no one had arrived yet. Contestants even snapped photographs, marking the contest’s first successful crash.

But within minutes, the group was whisked away when organizers realized they hadn’t paid the minimum $1,000 donation.

“It’s very frustrating because we know money talks louder than people do,” said Metzler, who now works as a program manager with the senior advocacy group Gray Panthers. “So our goal is to be loud or louder (than) the money.”

Contestants made one final attempt at Spataro restaurant on L Street, where Sen. Carole Midgen was throwing a birthday celebration. The San Francisco Democrat turned 58 on Monday.

The group entered the restaurant but failed to get into a private dining area where representatives of Sempra Energy, FedEx, and Altria Group, the parent company of cigarette giant Philip Morris, were expected.

“It looks like the energy industry is showing up here,” Heller said to a woman working for Spataro as a line of suits filed in.

“No problem, let me get you a table because this is a private room,” she said standing between him and a table lined with name tags.

“Yeah, I kind of want to sit in there,” Heller said.

“No problem, let me get you a table out there because this is a private room,” she said again.

“Do you know what it takes to get an invitation?” Heller asked.


“It sounds,” Heller said, “like we’re not going to be able to get in.”
About the writer: The Bee’s Judy Lin can be reached at 916-321-1115 or [email protected]

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