Giuliani Supporter Admits Funding Calif. Referendum

A top fundraiser for presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani admits he was the financial backer of a controversial California ballot measure that could have tilted the presidential election in Giuliani's favor.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, this next story is not about cheating per se, but about how not telling the whole truth can get you in trouble. A top fundraiser for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani admits he was the financial backer of a controversial California ballot measure that could have tilted the presidential election in the Republican favor.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports the admission solved the mystery that's roiled California politics for days.

INA JAFFE: The proposed ballot measure would change the way that California allocates its 55 electoral votes. Right now, it's winner take all. And in the past four elections, the winners have been Democrats.

But the initiative would award electoral votes to the winner in each congressional district. The result would be a likely shift of at least 20 electoral-college votes for the Republican ticket.

Mr. CHRIS LEHANE (Democratic Consultant, San Francisco): Essentially giving the Republicans another state of Ohio in terms of the electoral vote count.

JAFFE: Says Chris Lehane, the Democratic consultant leading the campaign against the measure.

Mr. LEHANE: The Republicans will be able to win the electoral college even if they lose the presidential campaign by three, four or five points.

JAFFE: But the campaign for the initiative was next to broke. Then, earlier this month that received a sudden infusion of cash from a Missouri organization called Take Initiative America. The group was incorporated on September 10th. On September 11th it gave the campaign $175,000.

Jonathan Wilcox is the organization spokesman, though in a recent interview he didn't seemed to be able to say much about the group.

Mr. JONATHAN WILCOX (Spokesman, Take Initiative America): I can't give you an account of membership, but I guarantee you it is growing.

JAFFE: Okay. Double digits? Triple digits? Four digits? Nothing?

Mr. WILCOX: I can't give you an estimate.

JAFFE: The only known member of the group was a lawyer from Union, Missouri, named Charles Hurth III. He'd given a couple of thousand dollars to Rudy Giuliani's campaign. He's not, however, known as that kind of guy who could suddenly plunk down a hundred seventy-five grand. He'd been more commonly known as the guy who had to shell out more than $27,000 some years ago when he was sued by a woman for biting her on the backside. Ultimately, all the scandal and secrecy just got to be too much for the initiative's original backers.

Thursday night, they quit, explains former initiative campaign spokesman Kevin Eckery.

Mr. KEVIN ECKERY (Former Spokesman, Take Initiative America): The whole idea of having a contribution that we couldn't quite trace back to where it came from was unwise. And to preserve our credibility for other things, it was important that we move on.

JAFFE: Late Friday, the mystery came to an end. Hedge-fund tycoon and Giuliani fundraiser Paul Singer contacted a New York Daily News reporter by e-mail writing: I contributed to Take Initiative America because I believe in proportional voting in the electoral college.

Singer's contribution had nothing to do with the Giuliani campaign, according to spokesman Jarrod Agen.

Mr. JARROD AGEN (Campaign Spokesman, Rudy Giuliani's Campaign): Mayor Giuliani actually made it clear that he had no part in it and he had no knowledge of it, and he had no knowledge of it internally within the campaign.

Mr. LEHANE: You know, I just don't think that passes the political smell test.

JAFFE: Says Democratic consultant Chris Lehane.

Mr. LEHANE: I mean, this is someone who literally is Rudy Giuliani's top fundraiser. He is a friend of Rudy Guiliani's. And, you know, it's hard to believe that this guy was just going out and running a rouge operation. And so you know, once again we're in a place of having to pose the question: What does Rudy know? When did he know it? And why haven't they been straight with us?

JAFFE: But spokesman Jarrod Agen says Giuliani thinks he'd have a good shot at winning California just the way things are now.

Mr. AGEN: Frankly, the initiative is not necessarily in the best interest of our campaign.

JAFFE: And the measure is likely down for the count in any case. But the questions over the involvement of a member of Giuliani's inner circle may linger for a while.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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