Can Gov. Jerry Brown turn Arizona controversy into votes for tax plan?
The controversy over a mysterious Arizona nonprofit has become a fixture of Gov. Jerry Brown's stump speech as he campaigns for tax hikes.
In his speeches, Brown routinely criticizes "shadowy forces" trying to defeat his tax plan, which would temporarily increase the sales tax and levies on the wealthy to prevent billions of dollars in cuts to public schools. The Arizona nonprofit, which has not disclosed its donors, gave $11 million to defeat the taxes and push a separate ballot measure that would curb unions' political influence.
However, it's unclear if the controversy is going to sway any more voters to support tax hikes.
"Most voters think that the identity of donors ought to be public," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "What’s less clear is whether this is going to affect what they think about schools and taxes."
Schnur, a former Republican strategist, said Brown's biggest challenge is convincing voters they can trust government with more tax dollars.
Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist who is not working on the tax campaign, said voters are somewhat numb to issues involving campaign finance, since they already view the entire enterprise with a jaundiced eye.
“They just assume politics is expensive, campaigns are expensive, and the people who give have a vested interest in the outcome,” he said.
However, Sragow said there’s a possibility the controversy over the Arizona group could be different.
“Whoever these people are, they’re presumably not Californians, and they’re sticking their noses into our business," he said, something voters in the state may not look kindly on.
Mark Paul, who has written a book on California government, said the identity of donors can make an important difference in campaigns.
"Identifying who’s for and against a measure is how many voters figure out which side to take," he said.
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown holds up a sign to support Proposition 30. Source: Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press