Friday, September 28, 2007

California Electoral Initiative: D.O.A.

The California Electoral Initiative #07-0032, or the Orwellian named Presidential Election Reform Act (pdf) as backers like to call it, was a power grab attempt by Republicans to change the state's winner-take-all system so that 53 of its 55 electoral votes can be divvied up based on how each congressional district votes.

Even if the remaining two of the 55 electoral votes goes to the popular vote winner, this change means that the Republicans can capture as many as 20 electoral votes in California in 2008, big enough to change the outcome of the presidential election.

Now the L.A. Times reports the initiative is all but dead:

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... 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."
This is good news, thanks largely to a grassroots effort to defeat the initiative, but the story doesn't end here. Several things about the initiative smelled fishy, and this may not be their last attempt to steal California's electoral votes and in effect, the 2008 presidential election.

For one thing, Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker reports this about the initiative's drafter, Thomas Hiltachk (emphasis mine):

Nominally, the sponsor of No. 07-0032 is Californians for Equal Representation. But that’s just a letterhead—there’s no such organization. Its address is the office suite of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, the law firm for the California Republican Party, and its covering letter is signed by Thomas W. Hiltachk, the firm’s managing partner and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal lawyer for election matters. Hiltachk and his firm have been involved in many well-financed ballot initiatives before, including the recall that put Arnold in Sacramento. They specialize in initiatives that are the opposite of what they sound like—the Fair Pay Workplace Flexibility Act of 2006, for example. It would have raised the state minimum wage slightly—by a lesser amount than it has since been raised—and, in the fine print, would have made it impossible ever to raise it again except by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, while, for good measure, eliminating overtime for millions of workers.
Also, the one large donor referred to in the L.A. Times article is a group called Take Initiative America (TIA) which turns out to be based not in California but in Union, Missouri (population: 7,000). Its donation of $175,000 arrived a day after the group was formed by a lawyer named Charles A. Hurth III.

A San Francisco Chronicle article revealed some interesting things about Mr. Hurth (emphasis mine):

It's not the first time Hurth has been part of an effort that Democrats say has been aimed at changing the outcome of a presidential election. In 2004, he was the legal agent behind a GOP-funded group called Choices for America, which solicited donations from Republicans for another controversial signature drive - to help independent candidate Ralph Nader get on the presidential election ballot in key states, documents show...

Hurth also chaired First Class Funding, a 2005 educational reform campaign supported by conservatives and another big political donor, Patrick Byrne, the chief executive officer of the Internet shopping site based in Salt Lake City. Byrne has donated to candidates of both parties as well as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effort against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts...
The article also notes a 1990 lawsuit that shows what a class act Mr. Hurth is:

Hurth, then a third-year law student at St. Louis University, was taken to court by a young woman who said he grabbed her in a bar and bit her on the buttocks so hard she required medical attention - then laughed and high-fived his friends.

Hurth testified that he had told her she should take it as a compliment.

The female attorney sued him and took something else instead - a jury's award of $27,500 for damages.
There's also this bit from the article:

Hurth donated $2,000 in March to the Giuliani campaign, and his fundraising associate in Choices for America, Nevada-based conservative strategist Steve Wark, has been a major donor and fundraiser for Giuliani.

Hiltachk's partner Charles Bell, a deputy treasurer for the proposed initiative, has given $1,300 to Giuliani, and another Hiltachk law firm partner, Charlotte McAndrews, has donated $2,300 to the former New York mayor's campaign.
Hurth and Hiltachk. Donor and organizer. Both veterans of political shenanigans. Both supporters -- or connected to supporters -- of Giuliani. Both connected to an initiative that can possibly make Giuliani the next President of the United States. Coincidence?

Giuliani's camp denies having anything to do with the initiative, but it's obvious that the major players pushing this measure aren't as interested in "equal representation" of voters as much as they're interested in rigging the system in favor of the GOP.

Hurth and TIA are now being investigated by the Fair Political Practices Commission of California after Democrats charged that the group is hiding the source of its money. This nondisclosure was also cited by Hiltachk as one of the reasons he resigned, although considering that he didn't return TIA's $175,000, I suspect the committee's inability to attract support and not the source of TIA's funds was the more compelling reason for his resignation.

I am all for changing our electoral college system to a system that more accurately reflects the popular vote. However, it should be done nationwide or not at all. Doing it only in California, the biggest electoral prize in the union, and not in the red states where urban areas lean towards the Democrats benefits only the Republican party and not the electorate.

For now, the initiative is dead, but there's no reason to think they won't try again:

"We want to to make sure this is not the Freddy Krueger of initiatives," [Democratic consultant Chris] Lehane said today, "that comes back to life. We'll continue to monitor it."
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posted at 7:35:00 AM by Wonky Muse

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