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Pelosi Allies Aim to Kill Remap Reform

Congressional Democrats have raised millions of dollars in an effort to kill California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) bid to overhaul his state’s redistricting process in time for the 2006 midterms.

California is normally a donor state when it comes to funding political campaigns. But the desire of leading Democrats to defeat Schwarzenegger’s redistricting proposal — Proposition 77, which is on a Nov. 8 special election ballot — has seen a reversal of fortune, with millions of dollars pouring into the state.

At the direction of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and with help from other key Democrats, the national Democratic fundraising network has been tapped, thus far, for approximately $7.2 million. This money has flowed to “No on 77,” one of a handful of committees raising cash and campaigning against the measure.

Of the $7.2 million, at least $1.5 million has come from reliable Democratic Party donors — individuals and political action committees — based in Washington, D.C., and around the country. Stephen Bing and Haim Saban, two big-time Democratic Party donors based in California, have added $4.25 million and $100,000, respectively.

“My guess is, there are a lot of officeholders in California reaching out to their friends and supporters to get involved,” said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), whose brother, political consultant Michael Berman, is running No on 77.

Almost 10 Democratic House Members have given a total of nearly $100,000 to No on 77, including five from states other than California.

Contributing $1,000 each were Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), John Murtha (Pa.), Darlene Hooley (Ore.) and Jay Inslee (Wash.).

Pelosi, and California Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D) and Hilda Solis (D), have donated $25,000 each, with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) contributing $5,000 and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) giving $1,000.

“The governor’s contributions on the ‘yes’ side swamp what we’ve been able to do. He’s gone all over the country raising money,” Lofgren said in an interview. “We know we can’t compete with the governor, but we think there ought to be some voice on the other side.”

A House Democratic aide explained the fundraising effort more succinctly.

“California Members work very hard to elect other Democratic Members to office, and they do so because they have shored up their seats at home,” the aide said. “Redistricting in California will affect elections across the country, both in money and in the ability of [California] Members to focus outside their districts.”

Among No on 77’s at least 65 individual and PAC contributors based outside of California are around a dozen D.C.-based PACs that have given $900,000. The individual donors include almost a dozen with New York addresses, and five based in Chicago.

Many of these donors contribute regularly to Democratic candidates, as well as causes and PACs that tend to support Democrats and Democratic Party interests, including the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which gave $200,000.

At least four No on 77 donors have contributed to Pelosi’s PAC, PAC To The Future, in the past four years, including Arthur Ortenberg of New York, $10,000; Peter Sperling of Phoenix, $50,000; Agnes Varis of New York, $10,000; and Harriet Zimmerman of Palm Beach, $15,000.

B.J. Gottstein of Anchorage, who regularly donates to Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), and Alaska and national Democrats, gave $25,000 to No on 77; Sidney Swartz of Marblehead, Mass., who has contributed to a host of Democratic Senate candidates, chipped in $50,000.

Roma Wittcoff, of Scottsdale, Ariz., gave $100,000 to No on 77. In the 2006 election cycle alone, Wittcoff has donated $35,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $21,700 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and $1,000 to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

No on 77 spokeswoman Stephanie Williamson said her committee does not coordinate its fundraising efforts with Democratic Congressional Members or anyone else, but is happy to accept any money raised on the committee’s behalf.

“We don’t sit in back rooms with them scheming on this. If they want to raise money for us, we’re grateful,” Williamson said.

Democratic consultant Tom Lindenfeld, who has worked on redistricting in New Jersey and served as an expert witness on the process in other states, called the push to pass Proposition 77 a “completely partisan act on Arnold’s part,” saying Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be complaining if Republicans controlled California’s Legislature.

But the D.C.-based consultant also acknowledged that Democratic money may be pouring into the opposition campaign because incumbents are sensitive to having to run in new districts. Even if Proposition 77 resulted in the same number of Democratic and Republican seats in the Golden State, the newly drawn seats could threaten the re-election of incumbents.

“So much of who wins and loses begins with the boundaries that it’s a huge deal. Change is a hassle,” Lindenfeld said. “The way you draw districts makes a difference.”

Proposition 77 would transfer from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges the power to draw legislative and Congressional district boundaries — a reform that Schwarzenegger and other advocates want enacted before the 2006 elections. Proponents say the goal is to produce competitive seats that are decided in the general election, not the Democratic or Republican primary.

Opponents claim Schwarzenegger wants to reduce the heavy Democratic tilt of his state’s Legislature, in a move similar to the mid-decade Congressional redistricting engineered in Texas by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) in 2003.

Schwarzenegger campaign spokesman Todd Harris called such critics hypocritical. He disputed Democrats, like Lofgren, who claim the governor has outraised his opposition, saying the Schwarzenegger campaign has been outraised 3-to-1 overall.

“They have now raised close to $120 million to fight against the governor’s reform measures, so don’t start with me about them being outspent,” Harris said. “California is being flooded with out-of-state money from politicians who do not have the people’s interests for reform at heart, and instead just want to protect their own hides.”

California’s Republican Congressional delegation has been split on Proposition 77. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R) was an early supporter, and donated $100,000 earlier this year to The People’s Advocate, the political advocacy group in Sacramento that wrote the ballot measure. But beyond that, donations supporting the effort have come from Schwarzenegger’s business community supporters rather than Republican Congressional members — although the California Republican Party kicked in $500,000.

Among the notable donors to the three pro-Proposition 77 committees: Oracle USA, Inc., $250,000; Charles Schwab, $250,000; San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos, $500,000 and Wal-Mart Chairman S. Robson Walton, $250,000.

John Walton of Bentonville, Ark., whose employer is listed as True North Investments, contributed $100,000. Schwarzenegger had contributed $1.25 million of his personal fortune to the effort, but the money was returned after there was a question about the legality of the donation.

In addition to the $7.2 million raised by No on 77, an additional $6 million has been raised by “Californians for Fair Representation — No on 77.”

This committee has mined almost all of its money inside California, minus a $100,000 donation from the D.C.-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees International Union.