ACTIVISTS PUSHING A PROPERTY RIGHTS PROPOSITION on the June 3 ballot are crying foul over their opponents' finances.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission accusing three entities -- League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties and the California Redevelopment Association -- of laundering campaign money, failing to disclose the identity of donors and illegally tapping into taxpayer funds.

"We suspect, and have some evidence to support it, that a major developer wants to defeat our measure (Proposition 98) but doesn't want his fingerprints on it, so he's given money to the league under some pretense or another for use in the campaign," Taxpayers Association chief Jon Coupal said.

That's absolutely false, countered League of Cities director Chris McKenzie.

He calls the allegations a scurrilous dirty trick intended to discredit the coalition and draw attention away from what he called Prop. 98's dire impacts.

"This complaint is full of false accusations but very thin on evidence," McKenzie said. "(Coupal) has lodged a very serious allegation and he has an obligation to produce the evidence. He simply doesn't want to talk about what his measure would do to California."

The exchange is another chapter in the ongoing tug-of-war between property rights activists and umbrella organizations such as the league, whose membership is primarily elected officials who make land-use decisions.

The league and its friends helped defeat Prop. 90 in 2006, a property-rights measure that could have fundamentally altered state law.

Now, the two sides are waging war over competing propositions on the June ballot.

The league's coalition is promoting Prop. 99, which would modestly tighten rules governing eminent domain, a controversial legal tool under which government agencies can purchase private property from unwilling sellers.

Governments would be banned from seizing single-family homes for the purposes of transferring the land to a private entity as long as the owner has lived in the house for at least a year.

In contrast, Prop. 98, funded largely by the taxpayers group and mobile home park owners, would, among other things, ban the use of eminent domain if the government intends to turn the land over to a private entity.

Property rights activists want to bar cities from forcing landowners to sell in order to make room for a private developer to build higher tax-generating shops or offices.

It would also bar limits on the amount for which landowners may sell or rent their land and buildings. Rent controls would phase out in about 100 cities and no new caps would be allowed.

If both measures win more than 50 percent at the ballot box, the one with the most votes prevails.

The property-rights debate is an oft-played tune in California's political repertoire, but it is a fundraising strategy that has struck a sour note with the folks over at the Taxpayer Association.

At the heart of the financial quarrel is the League of Cities and its partners' major donor committees, where they deposit funds for later transfer to the proposition campaign.

Such committees are common. Any business or person that contributes $10,000 or more in a year to a campaign must form one and file with the state.

The trio has pumped $4 million into these accounts in the past 15 months. The money amounts to more than half of the $7.1 million the coalition has raised.

The league's contributions come from rents, Western City Magazine advertising revenue and other enterprises, such as its annual business exposition, McKenzie said.

The league has never diverted into campaign funds any private corporate dollars or membership dues, which cities pay out of taxpayer funds, McKenzie said. The league's most recent legal opinion advises against both practices, although the organization's bylaws have always barred them.

Coupal says he simply doesn't believe it.

"It's implausible that their rent and advertising revenue could produce $4 million," Coupal said.

And any profits these agencies earn should be returned to the taxpayers in the form of reduced dues, he countered.

Voters will decide the propositions' fate, but it is now up to state investigators to decide if the taxpayers group has a legitimate gripe or whether to dismiss it as a campaign's crocodile tears.

GOT POLITICS? Check out my blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/insidepolitics for last week's happenings such as:

  • Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, was named chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee. It's a prestigious but short gig, as he's leaving the Assembly at the end of the year. He's running unopposed in June for the state Senate and has no viable November challenger.

  • Recycling is good, right? Steve Thomas, a Danville electrician who ran for Congress and came close to running for Assembly, says he will file as a write-in candidate for Contra Costa County supervisor.

    AND FINALLY. BART has signed a deal to let Peet's Coffee open kiosks at eight stations and they will let passengers carry their joe onboard.

    But there's no ingesting allowed on trains or platforms. If you get caught even taking a sip, it could cost you $250.

    BART is probably already printing up posters, "Friends Don't Let Friends Sip and Ride."

    This makes no sense. Will anyone shell out $3 for a piping hot vanilla-laced latte with chocolate sprinkles only to watch it grow colder than one of BART's concrete benches?

    But you know what they say at BART: You can't have your coffee and drink it, too.

    Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Read her political news on her blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/insidepolitics. Call her at 925-945-4773 or email her at lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com.