GOP Effort to Mess with California’s Electoral Votes Hits Snag

HT to LA Times

GOP electoral initiative dealt major blows

Two key consultants for an effort to change California’s winner-take-all system quit over money and disclosure woes.

By Dan Morain
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 28, 2007

SACRAMENTO — A proposed California initiative campaign that could have helped Republicans hold on to the White House in 2008 was a shambles Thursday night, as two of its key consultants quit.

Unable to raise sufficient money and angered over a lack of disclosure by its one large donor, veteran political law attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who drafted the measure, said he was resigning from the committee.

Hiltachk’s departure is a major blow to the operation because he organized other consultants who had set about trying to raise money and gather signatures for the initiative. Campaign spokesman Kevin Eckery said he was ending his role as well.

There remained a chance that the measure could be revived, but only if a major donor were to come forward to fund the petition drive. However, time is short to gather the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed by the end of November. And backers said Thursday that they believed the measure was all but dead, at least for the 2008 election.

” ‘Shambles’ is the wrong word,” said strategist Marty Wilson, who curtailed his fundraising efforts weeks ago. “The campaign never got off the ground.”

Intended for the June 2008 ballot, the proposed initiative sought to change California’s winner-take-all system to require that electoral votes be awarded based on how individual congressional districts vote.

Democrats were alarmed by the measure because they assume the Democratic nominee must capture all of California’s 55 electoral votes to win the presidency. With Republicans holding 19 congressional seats in California, the GOP nominee would be expected to capture at least 19 of the state’s electoral votes, nearly as many as are in Ohio.

A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to capture the White House. In the 2000 election, President Bush defeated Al Gore by five electoral votes.

Federal law authorizes states to establish their own methods for selecting electoral votes. As it is, Nebraska and Maine are the only states that allocate electoral votes by congressional district. All the rest select them on a winner-take-all basis.

Despite the attention the measure garnered after a report in the Los Angeles Times’ political blog, Top of the Ticket, and in the New Yorker, it failed to attract significant financial support, perhaps because many Republican donors are less than energized this year, and perhaps because of the slowing economy.

“There is not a huge amount of donor interest in the measure for a variety of reasons,” Wilson said. “I’m not willing to keep beating my head against the wall.”

The campaign received only one sizable donation — $175,000. That is less than one-tenth of the $2 million typically needed to gather sufficient signatures to qualify a measure for the California ballot.

The donation arrived on Sept. 11, one day after Missouri attorney Charles A. Hurth III created a company called TIA Take Initiative America that served as the vehicle for the donation. But the individual donors to the organization were not known.

Hiltachk said he had demanded that “Take Initiative America fully disclose the source of its funds,” and said he was assured it would make such a disclosure soon.

“Nonetheless,” Hiltachk said, “I am deeply troubled by their failure to disclose prior to my demand and by their failure to disclose to me or to our committee that Take Initiative America had been formed just one day prior to making the contribution. . . .

“I am not willing to proceed under such circumstances,” Hiltachk said. “Therefore, I am resigning my role in this campaign.”

Eckery added: “There’s no reason to be cute on campaign contributions. We had nothing to hide, and the public has every right to know.”

Eckery said the campaign would keep the money; it has been used to pay signature gatherers and other costs.

Hurth did not return repeated calls seeking comment. His spokesman, Republican consultant Jonathan Wilcox, would not say who provided the $175,000. Wilcox said the group was planning to donate to other conservative causes around the country, including one in Utah to create school vouchers.

Donors commonly establish entities such as nonprofit corporations to raise money for political campaigns. In at least some instances, donors to such organizations are able to hide their identities.

“I’m not authorized by my clients to speak with the media just yet,” Cleta Mitchell, a Washington attorney representing the group, said in an e-mail.

Unlike federal campaign law, California law permits corporations to make political donations. And though there are caps on the size of donations to federal candidates, state and federal law permits donations of unlimited size to support or oppose ballot measures.

Hiltachk said he still believed the measure would “revive California’s role in presidential politics, increase voter participation and better reflect the vast diversity of our state.”

Democratic consultant Chris Lehane mounted an aggressive opposition campaign that received backing from wealthy donors such as real estate investor and movie producer Stephen L. Bing, who like Lehane is supporting New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid.

On Thursday, Lehane organized a news conference to demand that the organization disclose its donors, and threatened to file a complaint with election regulators.

California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres also called for disclosure.

“We want to make sure this is not the Freddy Krueger of initiatives that comes back to life,” Lehane said. “We’ll continue to monitor it. We thought it was a debacle from the beginning and seems it suffered from its own internal dysfunction.”

  11 comments for “GOP Effort to Mess with California’s Electoral Votes Hits Snag

  1. September 28, 2007 at 11:04 am

    “Mess with”?

    I’m reluctant to change how California’s electoral votes have traditionally been apportioned, but Constitutionally, we have every right to do so.

  2. anon
    September 28, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Haa Haa!

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    September 28, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Matt — a plan to give Republicans enough electoral votes that represent an Ohio or PA without other big states going along is bull. Either we all play by the same rules or we dont. I remember Republicans being opposed to his happening in Colorado in 2004.

  4. September 28, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Bull according to who, Dan? You — a partisan Democrat? Because you don’t want your ox gored?

    When the Dems were pushing this in North Carolina until very recently, I didn’t hear a peep out of the Dems blogosphere now going ape over the possibility of doing so in California — because doing it in North Carolina would benefit the Democratic nominee. Then it’s A-OK. The NC push only stopped after Howard Dean asked them to cool it so they could oppose the California plan without looking like hypocrites.

    The Constitution allows each state to decide how they apportion their electoral votes. Nothing about “playing by the same rules.”

  5. Dan Chmielewski
    September 28, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Matt — I live in California, not Colorado or NC. If you want to split up California’s vote, be prepared for similar efforts in Florida and Ohio.

  6. September 28, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Man, I hate agreeing with the Republicans here, but the electoral system is horrible, and the “winner take all” aspect is a major part of that. As little as I want to see Republicans retain the White House, if we’re going to have a system like we do, distribution should be as fair as possible.

    Giving 54 out of 54 votes to a candidate who wins 51% of the popular vote is absurd, Republican or Democrat. Unfortunately, nothing can be done on the national level, so it’s got to be done by the states.

  7. RHackett
    September 28, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    You know the rationale for this is bogus since the GOP didn’t start in a state like TX or OH.

    No one is fooled and it won’t take much to defeat this measure if it even gets to the ballot.

  8. September 28, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Matt,

    I did a post criticizing the effort in North Carolina and stated that every state should reform or no state should. I will find the link and send it to you. But that ends your theory that the liberal blogosphere was silent.

    Claudio

  9. September 28, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    Claudio,

    Thank you for being the lone voice.

    As I said, I am not supporting this plan. I merely point out the states have the right to do so if they choose.

  10. Northcountystorm
    September 28, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Jubal-

    it’s not clear anyone but the state legislature can make the change. And you’re correct, if they choose to do so they can.

    But it’s a bad idea unless you do it nationally, creating a level playing field. I probably didn’t post a comment on the North Carolina folks but I do recall Claudio doing so and he was right. I’ve also said the legislature’s vote a couple of years ago to link California’s electoral vote to other states popular vote was “goofy” and an end run around the U.S. Constitution. As Dan and others have pointed out, this plan –absent similar plans being implemented in Florida or Texas for example–would be electoral death for the Democrats.

    If people want to change the way we elect a president, do it the old fashioned way—amend the Constitution. until then, shut up and play by the rules.

  11. Dan Chmielewski
    September 28, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    Matt –
    If I had a nickel for every bit of GOP outrage that you didn’t comment on, well…I could retire.
    ;)

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