- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

A state elections agency in California this week sued the supporters of a ballot initiative that would prohibit the state from collecting race data, a move that lawyers defending the ballot’s funding called “clearly partisan.”

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) filed the complaint to force Ward Connerly and his American Civil Rights Coalition to reveal who is supporting the measure, called Proposition 54, before the Oct. 7 special election.

The civil complaint, filed in state court in Sacramento, contends that contributions to the campaign to pass the measure are subject to public-disclosure laws. A spokeswoman for the commission said it was acting on complaints it received more than a year ago.

The suit against Mr. Connerly is the first time the 29-year-old commission has sued before an election to require campaign disclosure.

Proposition 54, if passed, would prohibit state and local governments from collecting racial data with exemptions for medical treatment and research, law enforcement, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and any classifications required for federal funds.

“The filing was filed at this time because the investigation was completed,” FPPC spokeswoman Sigrid Bathen said. “We thought it was an egregious violation of the state’s laws.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet in court today to hear the commission’s request to expedite a court date, which was originally set for Sept. 26.

According to an affidavit, Mr. Connerly in June told an investigator from the commission that some of the money used for the campaign came from donations to his coalition. When asked to reveal his donors, Mr. Connerly, according to the affidavit, said “absolutely not.”

Public records, the affidavit says, revealed that Mr. Connerly had funded the initiative almost exclusively through donations to the coalition. The coalition refused to comment on the state’s legal action, but issued a statement on its Web site.

“Anyone contributing to [American Civil Rights Coalition] knew their contribution would be used at the sole discretion of ACRC, and no donor would have any ability to influence or alter ACRC’s actions,” the statement reads.

“The [commissions] complaint against ACRC is clearly political in nature.”

Proposition 54, which will appear on the same ballot as the proposed recall of Gov. Gray Davis, has been widely assailed by Democrats. An attorney for Mr. Connerly said that this week’s civil action sniffed of politics from the commission.

“At the same time the commission was deciding not to go after [Democratic gubernatorial contender and Lt. Gov.] Cruz Bustamante for receiving almost $3 million in contributions from a past campaign, it was suing us,” Sacramento lawyer Ben Davidian said. “They tried to say that they don’t bring actions before an election, but that didn’t stop them with us.

“One can draw his own conclusion, but it looks like a clearly partisan effort to not go after the Democrat,” he said.

The five-member commission, which is charged with overseeing campaign-rules violations and conflicts of interest, said it would not rule on complaints about Mr. Bustamante’s fund raising until after the election.

Three of the five commissioners are Democrats. Republican Commissioner Phillip Blair, is a Davis appointee and past chairman of Planned Parenthood of San Diego.

Thomas Knox, another Republican, was appointed by former Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones. He flatly denied that there are any partisan overtones to the complaint.

“It simply is not true,” Mr. Knox said. “The Bustamante situation is troubling, but it just burst on the scene. This case with Mr. Connerly has been under investigation.”

The commission said the legal action was fostered by complaints from six liberal groups opposed to Proposition 54, including California Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of California, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Greenlining Institute, Californians for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

The advocacy groups said state law requires disclosure of individual contributors to the nonprofit group when the money is funneled to a ballot measure.

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