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California Democratic Party files ethics complaint about governor's budget ads

July 15, 2009 | 11:44 am

The California Democratic Party filed a complaint today with the state’s ethics agency, alleging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has improperly used funds from a ballot measure committee that he controls to pay for television ads touting his position on the budget crisis.

The complaint, which seeks an injunction to stop the ads, was filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which in January adopted new rules aimed at preventing ballot measure committees controlled by elected officials from promoting the officials rather than the initiatives and referendums.

"However, the governor’s ad refers repeatedly to state budget negotiations rather than any current or anticipated ballot measure," the state party said in a statement.

In an interview, state Democratic Party Chairman John Burton called for immediate action. "The ads should be taken off the air. They violate the regulations of the FPPC," he said.

The ads, which are running statewide, are paid for by the governor-controlled California Dream Team, a committee set up to advocate for ballot measures.

In the ad, Schwarzenegger vows to oppose any budget that raises taxes or "spends money we do not have."

Representatives of the governor said that while no measures have been placed on a future ballot regarding the budget, there have been some in the past and likely will be in the future.

"… It is lawful for any individual or organization to communicate with the public on issues," said Fred Lowell, legal counsel for the committee. "Gov. Schwarzenegger’s California Dream Team is also expressly permitted to expend its funds in the context of potential ballot measures which are anticipated."

Roman Porter, executive director of the FPPC, declined to comment on the governor’s case, but said regulations adopted by the commission are meant to make sure candidates are not using the ballot measure committee’s they control to promote themselves.

"The regulation was intended to provide greater transparency to the media and public about the number of committees controlled by office holders and to ensure that money raised without limits is spent only on ballot measures or potential measures, not on candidate activities," Porter said.

The committee must report the spending within 10 days. It will be then be reviewed by the commission staff, Porter said.

"It would be a case by case determination of how or if that description conforms" to the new regulations, he said.

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

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