Why rush to special election?


Has anyone stopped to wonder why Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in a headlong rush to stage a special election for his pet propositions in November, when the state’s primary election will follow just a few months later?

Surely the governor is as aware as anyone that a special election would cost this cash-strapped state at least $26 million. How many schoolbooks could that buy?

Schwarzenegger wants the changes he bills as reforms and he wants them right away. But even if they passed in November, the key measures he threatens to take to the people if legislators don’t pass them couldn’t take effect until after the June 2006 primary. Time would be too short to put newly drawn legislative and congressional districts into effect. And the across-the-board budget cutting he also seeks could not take effect until next summer, no matter what.

Most likely, someone near the governor has read California election laws. Starting next year, those laws forbid any committee funding an initiative campaign from accepting donations above $25,000 from any one person or entity if the committee runs TV commercials featuring a candidate who is on the same ballot with the initiative in question.

If, as most expect, Schwarzenegger seeks reelection next year, he would share a June ballot with all his putative initiatives - and his TV exposure in commercials for them would be limited. If there is no special election this fall.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger has already launched a campaign to raise $50 million for his propositions from corporations across America. At some events, he’s asking $100,000 for dinner and a photo. If contributions were limited to $25,000 per person or entity, he could quickly forget the $50 million goal and the $100,000-a-pop price tags, notes Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Court contends this is the real reason for the governor’s hurry to put his measures on the ballot next fall, with his mug all over your TV screen to push them, and never mind what it costs the state. No one offers a better explanation.

Schwarzenegger is careful to operate within the letter of the law.

Which means the governor and his friends may be doing precisely what the law requires while totally violating its spirit and its intent of isolating officeholders from big money interests seeking to control state policy.

They need an election date this year to do all this. Which explains the big rush.

Write to political columnist Thomas Elias at