As election campaigns head into the last weekend and candidates crisscross the state, activists of all stripes are busy.
The proposition that would tax Californians who earn more than $1 million per year to pay for mental-health programs has come under attack from the Church of Scientology. Democrats accused the Republican Party of launching a racist attack campaign against an Assembly candidate from the Central Valley. And campaign analysts reported that more money has been spent on ballot measure campaigns in this election than in any other in California history.
In a mass mailing that reached voters across the state, the Scientologists painted Proposition 63 as a boondoggle for the "same psycho-pharma racket whose proliferation of mind-altering, violence-inducing drugs on our schoolchildren in recent decades has fueled the explosion of school violence fatalities."
It was the first major campaign attack on the initiative. Supporters of the measure suggested the Scientologists' mailing was a blatant violation of campaign law. The Scientology organization did not report the production and mailing of the eight-page Freedom newsletter to campaign finance authorities.
"Clearly this publication was sent to more than just their membership," said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento), who is leading the campaign for Proposition 63 and received one of the mailers himself. "We think the public has a right to know who paid for it."
The newsletter includes a photograph of a funeral of a victim from the Columbine school shooting along with warnings that passage of Proposition 63 could result in more school shootings. It also states that criminal behavior among psychiatrists has spiked 1700% over the last 20 years.
Tom Paquette, the newsletter's editor, said the report was consistent with what his newsletter has been publishing for years. He said the newsletter, which has a circulation of 200,000, was no different from any other newspaper or magazine that expresses opinions about an issue in its pages.
"Our constitutional rights stand just like those of the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor or any other newspaper," he said.
This wasn't the only political mailing to spark heated controversy this week.
Republican Mailer Is Called Racist
California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez decried as "racist" and "pathetic" a last-minute mailer sent by the California Republican Party against Democratic Assembly candidate Juan Arambula, a Fresno County supervisor.
The mailer includes a photo of the U.S.-Mexico border and the word "Mexico" in large letters. It states that Arambula belongs to the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior - "an official organization within the government that lobbies the United States to increase taxpayer-financed benefits for Mexicans living in the U.S."
The mailer also includes a quote from a 1991 Fresno Bee story in which Arambula called giving noncitizens the right to vote "an intriguing idea."
Arambula said he had stepped down from the institute a year ago and had rejected the idea of giving noncitizens the right to vote in school board elections when it was presented to him years ago, when he served on a school board.
"This is the worst kind of scare tactic that I could have imagined," he said. "I think it was designed to scare Anglo voters."
Nuñez said the mailer "really hits a home run where it relates to exploiting the wrong side of people."
California Republican Party spokeswoman Karen Hanretty defended the mailer, saying, "Voters deserve to know where Juan Arambula stands on issues of illegal immigration."
"The concern is that Mr. Arambula is lobbying to give benefits to illegal immigrants," she said, "and if he and Mr. Nuñez are proud of that & then they shouldn't have a problem with a mailer that expresses the opinions of this particular candidate."
Others are also complaining of dirty tricks.
Supporters of Proposition 72, which would require businesses to provide health insurance to their employees, accused Wal-Mart of trying to intimidate its workers into opposing the measure.
The Yes on 72 campaign distributed an internal Wal-Mart e-mail warning the company's employees that if the proposition passes, "associates would no longer be able to choose Wal-Mart's healthcare plan or our HMO offerings, but rather the control would be put in the hands of the government." The e-mail also says, "Our opponents are using this ballot measure to attack Wal-Mart and slow down our growth and your career opportunities."
Supporters of the proposition asked Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, to investigate whether Wal-Mart was trying to coerce its workers into voting against the proposition.
A Lockyer spokesman said the office would conduct a preliminary inquiry to see if an investigation was warranted.
Cynthia Lin, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said: "We believe that voters will see these latest maneuvers for what they are - attempts to hide the very real and negative impacts of a proposition that is opposed by hundreds of California employers, local governments, nonprofits, community groups, law enforcement, school districts, medical groups, in addition to Gov. Schwarzenegger and virtually every major California newspaper."
Campaign Tabs Growing Fast
As the charges and counter-charges fly, campaign tabs are being run up at a record pace.
Backers and foes of the 16 propositions on Tuesday's ballot have raised more than $200 million, according to the secretary of state. Indian tribes, card rooms and racetracks raised half of that amount - about $106 million - to support and oppose Propositions 68 and 70, initiatives that would open the way for expanded casino gambling in California.
The nonpartisan California Voter Foundation said the amount spent on ballot measures was a record, eclipsing the $196 million raised for and against a dozen measures in November 1998.
"Initiatives are big business in California, especially when tribal gaming is involved," said Kim Alexander, president of the voter foundation.
One donor, Orange County billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III, has given more than $1.9 million in the last week to help defeat Proposition 66, which would significantly scale back California's tough three-strikes sentencing law. That includes $410,000 that he dropped into the opposition campaign on Friday.
The amount raised and spent on 80 Assembly and 20 Senate races could not be obtained Friday. But the total price tag for the 10 most costly campaigns was $38 million. In the Central Valley, Sen. Mike Machado (D-
Linden) and Stockton Mayor Gary Podesto, a Republican, set a record for a California legislative race, raising $7.8 million as of Friday.
Various interest groups, including business and labor, casino owners and environmentalists, have spent nearly $18 million this year in independent campaigns for and against legislative candidates. The California Republican Party has spent $17 million on state campaigns this year, and the Democratic Party has spent $11.4 million.
One group that has spent millions, however, has grown frustrated with its inability to get what it says is a simple message across. Supporters of Proposition 67, which would raise money for emergency rooms by increasing the existing 911 surcharge on monthly phone bills, can't understand why opponents say the 911 tax has nothing to do with emergency rooms.
In their effort to show the link between the 911 system and emergency rooms, supporters distributed a story that ran Friday in USA Today featuring a dog that had managed to speed-dial 911 with its paw when its owner had fallen out of her wheelchair and needed medical attention. The release was titled: "Even a Dog Understands the 911 and Emergency Care Connection."