LOS ANGELES, SEPT. 26 -- A federal judge in Sacramento has thrown the California gubernatorial race into turmoil -- and given an unanticipated boost to Democratic nominee Dianne Feinstein -- by striking down the 1988 voter-approved initiative that imposed limits on campaign contributions.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton's ruling Tuesday that the limits in Proposition 73 violate First Amendment rights of free expression produced a flurry of political and legal maneuvers. Sen. Pete Wilson, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, called for self-imposed limits in the last six weeks of the campaign and Proposition 73 supporters said they would try to have the ruling suspended.
"It's like you are playing with 52 cards in the deck and then someone slips in a joker," said Wilson campaign spokesman Bill Livingstone.
He said Feinstein's failure to immediately accept Wilson's call for continued adherence to the 1988 initiative's limits -- $1,000 per individual donor and $5,000 per political committee in each July-through-June fiscal year -- meant that the Democrat "wants to take money from the big cigars."
"Feinstein has abandoned her principles for profits," Wilson said in a statement.
Feinstein press secretary Dee Dee Myers said the candidate is still considering her response and added, "We're not surprised Wilson would take that position . . . because he's spent the last decade building up a list of $1,000 contributors."
The state Democratic party chairman, former governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., gleefully welcomed the decision as the end to "one of the most pernicious campaign laws ever enacted and . . . to pervasive state censorship of grass-roots activist organizations." Brown said federal law has similar restrictions that he expects will soon be challenged in court.
Brown's party joined the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association in filing the lawsuit against Proposition 73. He said the decision would immediately help Feinstein by unleashing "Democratic financial resources," such as unions and a few wealthy individuals, to support her campaign.
Campaign reports filed in August showed Feinstein with $645,000 in the bank compared to $3.9 million for Wilson. She has said that Wilson, one of the state's most successful fund-raisers, has been outspending her 3 to 1 on television advertising.
"They could have had a grass-roots campaign too," said Wilson spokesman Livingstone, noting that both Feinstein and Wilson backed Proposition 73. "They are just not that good at reaching out to Californians."
Livingstone said the Wilson campaign expects that attorneys for the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will win a stay of Karlton's order until after the Nov. 6 election, but he suggested that Feinstein might use the brief "window of opportunity" before a stay to collect large donations.
The effect of the ruling was further complicated by Karlton's conclusion that contribution limits under Proposition 68, another 1988 initiative, could remain in effect because they are based on the election year cycle and do not discriminate in favor of incumbents, as he said Proposition 73's fiscal year rules do. The FPPC said it would enforce the Proposition 68 limits, which apply only to state legislative races, but Brown said Democrats would object because they believe that those restrictions depend on public financing of campaigns, which was outlawed by a part of Proposition 73 that was left intact.