- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The leading Democrat and Republican vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis are both taking aim at another issue on the Oct. 7 recall ballot: Proposition 54, which would limit what racial data the government can collect.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is transferring $3.8 million in questioned contributions from Indian tribes to a committee to fight the measure, his campaign consultant said yesterday. And Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, under fire for some of his positions on immigrant issues, said Saturday for the first time that he also opposes the measure.

“There is no way we can match that,” Proposition 54’s backer, Ward Connerly, said in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times. The University of California regent acknowledged the measure would likely be defeated.

Opponents say the initiative would undermine civil rights enforcement because it would stop the collection of statistics that could show a pattern of discrimination in anything from schooling to law enforcement. Mr. Connerly has said statistics can’t prove discrimination, and that it’s time to stop being so race conscious.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, speaking to Spanish language station KUVS-TV in Sacramento, said he believes it is necessary to collect racial data for use in such fields as health and education.

“If you take that out, it will be disastrous,” he said.

Bustamante campaign consultant Richie Ross said the lieutenant governor is following his conscience by putting the tribes’ contributions into the fight against Proposition 54.

Mr. Bustamante, the only well-known Democrat among the 135 replacement candidates, has been criticized for accepting millions of dollars from tribes, most with lucrative casinos, by taking advantage of a loophole in the state’s campaign-financing rules.

He skirted the $21,200 individual contribution approved by voters in 2000 by accepting the multimillion-dollar donations to his 2002 campaign committee for lieutenant governor. Because that committee was created before the state’s new campaign-finance law took effect, it is not subject to the contribution caps imposed on newer campaign accounts. The money was then transferred into his recall committee account.

Though the action may be legal, critics say it’s wrong.

Republican state Sen. Ross Johnson filed a lawsuit asking a judge to forbid the lieutenant governor from collecting donations that exceed the limit.

Even state Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said it “doesn’t pass the smell test.” It’s a legal loophole, Mr. Torres said, but, “Do I think he should’ve used it? Probably not.”

Mr. Ross said yesterday that Mr. Bustamante wants to avoid a political fight that has nothing to do with the issues voters care about.

“It’s not the lawsuit. Our attorneys are very sure about our position on that,” Mr. Ross said. “I basically came to the conclusion that winning the legal fight and losing the political fight was just wrong. If you’re going to have a fight, let’s have a fight that actually matters in peoples’ lives.”

Mr. Bustamante had previously defended his acceptance of the money, saying it “levels the playing field” with his wealthy opponents.

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