Who is putting up the money for the latest volley of direct mail from ex-Democratic state senator Steve Peace’s California Independent Voter Project? Because the group is a nonprofit 501(c)4 corporation, it doesn’t have to disclose its contributor list, unlike political committees that are required by state law to make regular filings. But the mailer, apparently dispatched only to those who decline to state their political affiliation when they register to vote, steps right into the national health-care debate with a distinctive GOP spin. “Don’t let them tax your health care plan,” the mailer urges.
“Californians could end up paying 33 percent more per capita in taxes than the average in the rest of the country.” The piece also attacks the alternative minimum tax. “Originally intended to be an added tax to keep millionaires from avoiding their fair share,” it says, “many people are paying this added income tax and don’t even know it!”
Peace, who spent years in the state assembly and senate, has long been a favorite of certain special interests, and he hasn’t always been against taxes. His biggest legislative achievement was also his political undoing: the 1996 industry-favored electric utility deregulation scheme that ultimately imploded in a doubling of electric bills and the Enron scandal. As a result, Peace’s hoped-for bid for secretary of state in 2002 went out the window. He insists the reform was good and outside forces beyond its control caused the meltdown.
In 1998, Peace carried a bill that levied a $3.50 tax on each daily car rental here in order to finance a parking garage adjacent to the convention center and near a new baseball park being built by Padres owner John Moores. After Peace left the legislature, Moores made him a team executive. In an interview late last week, Peace said that Moores contributed $1 million to launch the California Independent Voter Project but has not contributed since. He says he is still working for Moores on various projects. He said that Eli Lilly Company, the drug maker, had been a contributor but declined to identify any other donors, saying that to do so might subject them to retaliation from those who disagree with some aspect of his group’s efforts, which range from the mailers to laying the groundwork for Proposition 14. The hotly debated so-called Open Primary measure would allow any voter, regardless of party registration, to vote for any candidate, with a runoff for the top two finishers, also regardless of party affiliation.
According to its most recent filing with the IRS, covering 2008, Peace’s organization received $600,000 in contributions from unidentified sources and spent $934,062, leaving it with $80,264 in cash at the end of that year. It paid $20,989 to David Takashima, a Sacramento-based ex–Peace aide and former lobbyist for Southern California Edison and PG&E. Other payments listed include a $27,000 contribution to the San Diego Asian Film Foundation and $15,000 to the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the state’s prison guard union. “Other expenses” included $162,500 for “research,” $132,227 worth of “consulting,” and $148,029 for “information technology.”