SACRAMENTO — If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to convince voters Proposition 11 is not a Republican power grab, his trip to Florida on Friday didn't do much to allay the suspicion.
There, he was scheduled to attend two fundraisers held by prominent Republican donors for the redistricting initiative — the latest in a long season of GOP giving to the effort that would take the power to draw political boundaries out of the Democratic-controlled Legislature and put into the hands of a commission.
Of the nearly $12 million raised for the Yes on 11 campaign, the vast majority of the major donations has come from Republican donors, reinforcing the perception Democratic opponents have tried to foster: that Republicans are seeking to cut into Democrats' legislative majorities.
"Taking your money predominantly from the Republican side could be a problem in the last two weeks of the campaign," said Bruce Cain, director of the UC Berkeley Center in Washington, D.C. "If undecided Democrats think the enthusiasm is coming from Republicans, it looks like a power grab. And that's in the middle of a presidential election in which change of power is the major theme."
Polls have so far shown a public reluctant to embrace the concept. In a September survey by Public Policy Institute of California, 38 percent of likely voters were in favor, 33 percent opposed and the rest were undecided.
Schwarzenegger is the co-chairman of the campaign, alongside Steve Westly, the former Democratic state controller. But Westly, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is independently wealthy, has yet to contribute to the campaign, and he has been out of view since he kicked off the campaign with the governor in March.
Supporters of Prop. 11 point to more than 2,000 endorsements from a bipartisan list of organizations and political leaders, which include former Gov. Gray Davis and former Democratic Assemblyman Fred Keeley. The major sponsors of the measure are "good government" organizations such as Common Cause of California, League of Women Voters and AARP.
The Yes on 11 campaign provided a list of eight Democrats who have contributed a total of $650,000 to the cause, including $250,000 from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix.
"Proposition 11 is supported by a very broad bipartisan coalition and was put on the ballot by good government groups," said Julie Soderlund, spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger's ballot committee, California Dream Team. "Donors from both parties have contributed in large amounts because people are tired of a system that doesn't work."
Earlier this week, Schwarzenegger may have betrayed some nervousness over the appearance of Republican ties to the campaign when he abruptly canceled a fundraiser in Texas. His campaign said it was so he could monitor fire conditions in Southern California, but opponents noted he was on a flight to Florida not long after holding a news conference.
Opponents contend that Schwarzenegger backed out only after a Dallas Morning News report publicized what they had hoped to be a trip under the radar to rake in cash from Texas Republicans who have had their own controversial history with redistricting under former Congressman Tom DeLay. A spokesman for the host of the gala, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, told the Morning News that he would not support similar reform in his state. Republicans control both houses of the Texas Legislature.
"They want nothing to do with reform in their state, yet they gather at the Four Seasons in Austin for $1,000 a plate to change California's rules," said Paul Hefner, spokesman for the No on 11 campaign. "It shows it really is a partisan political agenda and that it's something folks are trying to hide."
The Florida fundraisers were to be hosted by Scott Rothstein, a prominent Fort Lauderdale attorney and GOP contributor, and Randal Perkins, CEO of Ashbritt Environmental, a Pompano Beach-based firm that has ties to the Bush administration. In 2006, Perkins hosted a $288,000 fundraiser for Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign.
Perhaps sensitive to the issue of partisan influence, the Yes on 11 campaign moved to separate itself — at least on paper — from Schwarzenegger, who controlled Voters First, the ballot measure's original campaign committee.
In creating a separate campaign committee — Yes on 11, Hold Politicians Accountable — that was unaffiliated with Schwarzenegger, the campaign has since been able to run ads without having to mention the governor's name in disclaimers.
Still, Schwarzenegger's main fundraising consultant, Renee Croce, controls Yes on 11 and has held simultaneous fundraisers for his Dream Team gubernatorial committee and the Yes on 11 committees — with the vast bulk of the donations going to the unaffiliated Yes on 11 committee.
Since the most recent campaign filing deadline on Sept. 30, $4,000 in contributions have gone to the Voters First account, which has been whittled down to $700,000 after it spent $6.2 million in a year. In the same period, the Dream Team account has collected $100,000. Meanwhile, the Yes on 11 committee has taken the lion's share of contributions after being established in August. That committee has raised $5.5 million, including $2.2 million in the past two weeks alone.
Meg Whitman, the former CEO of e-Bay who is a national co-chairwoman for U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, contributed $200,000 to the Yes on 11 campaign earlier this month. Brian Harvey, president of Cypress Land Company, pitched in $250,000 this week. Harvey has previously contributed $200,000 to Schwarzenegger and $500,000 to defeat the 2006 universal preschool initiative led by Hollywood director Rob Reiner.
Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.