- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — He lives in New York City; his name is not on a ballot. Yet real estate investor Howard Rich is a key reason why citizens in distant states will be voting Nov. 7 on bitterly contested initiatives that would limit state spending, impose term limits and curb land-use regulation.

Mr. Rich is a libertarian who champions the cause of limited government. He is the driving force behind a network of groups that has promoted ballot measures in at least 14 states this year.

Legal and signature-gathering problems derailed several of the campaigns. But states where Rich-backed measures made the ballot — often with most of their funding from his network — include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington.

Adversaries view Mr. Rich as a menace, deploying large sums of money to export a potentially harmful ideology to states where he has no personal stake. Others see him as a committed political philanthropist, acting on his convictions.

Mr. Rich declines to provide financial details of his efforts and his donor list. The liberal Ballot Initiative Strategy Center — a critic of Mr. Rich — said this week the total spending by his affiliated groups on 2006 ballot measures exceeded $13.2 million.

Agreeing to answer questions only by e-mail, Mr. Rich said he had followed all campaign finance rules. In the states where he helped put property rights measures on the ballot, he wrote, “I do not own any property and will not personally profit in any way.”

But what Mr. Rich depicts as a quest for liberty, his angry critics see a backdoor way of paralyzing government so big companies and big developers can do whatever they want.

Oregon voters passed a “regulatory takings” measure in 2004 similar to the land-use measures Mr. Rich is backing in this election. Since then, Oregon property owners there have filed 2,700 claims seeking $6 billion in compensation, prompting authorities to waive land-use rules in many cases rather than engage in costly litigation.

This year’s four regulatory takings measures are being fought by alliances of conservation groups, local officials and others who say the proposals would impede the government’s ability to protect people.

In an editorial this month, the News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., said Mr. Rich’s property rights measures relied on a “bait-and-switch” strategy.

“They promise to protect voters against out-of-control government officials but instead leave them practically defenseless against what their neighbors might decide to build next door,” it stated.

In some states, groups circulating Rich-backed petitions were accused of fraudulent tactics, and a Montana judge invalidated three different measures. Mr. Rich, in turn, said the petition efforts were subjected to harassment and even sabotage.

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