Democrat Kamala Harris, candidate for attorney general, filed a complaint with the state's political watchdog agency today charging that a national Republican group is leading an illegal $1.6 million advertising attack against her, campaign officials announced.
Harris is targeting the lack of financial disclosure in a massive advertising blitz by the Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee during the final week of campaigning.
Harris, San Francisco district attorney, contends the GOP ad is required to list the group's top two donors.
Besides asking the Fair Political Practices Commission to intervene, the Harris campaign has sent letters asking television stations airing the 30-second ads to stop doing so voluntarily, attorney James Sutton said.
Adam Temple, spokesman for the Republican State Leadership Committee, denied the allegations today, saying that "we've taken all measures to ensure that it's legal."
The group is led by Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and counselor to President George W. Bush.
The controversial 30-second ad criticizes Harris' personal opposition to the death penalty and her decision in 2004 not to seek capital punishment for the killer of San Francisco Police Officer Isaac Espinoza.
"Tell Kamala Harris - California's worst criminals deserve the toughest punishment the law allows," the ad concludes. "No excuses. No exceptions."
Kevin Spillane, spokesman for Republican candidate Steve Cooley, said that he has had nothing to do with the GOP group's ad but that Harris' reaction shows she "doesn't want the voters to know the truth about her record."
"The facts of the ad are truthful," Spillane said.
Under current California campaign laws, groups' ads are not required to report donors if they are "issue advocacy" spots that criticize performance but do not directly urge viewers to vote for or against someone. The FPPC has decided to tighten those rules after the Nov. 2 election.
The anti-Harris ad attacks her politically, thus clearly benefiting Cooley, but it does not specifically tell Californians to vote either for or against either candidate to be the state's top law enforcement official.
The 30-second TV spot carries a disclaimer saying, "Paid for by the Republican State Leadership Committee. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee."
Sutton, representing Harris, said that such a disclaimer is required by groups conducting "independent expenditure" political campaigns, whose ads would require disclosure of top contributors.
Thus, the Virginia-based group indirectly has conceded its ad is an independent expenditure, Sutton contends.
Temple disagrees. "It's an issue advocacy ad," he said. "We're in 100 percent compliance with California law."
In a telephone news conference announcing their plans to file an FPPC complaint, Harris campaign officials also blasted the million-dollar ad campaign as an unprecedented intrusion by a partisan political group into a California attorney general campaign.
Brian Brokaw, Harris spokesman, said contributors to the group include oil, tobacco, pharmaceutical, insurance and other industries that the attorney general would be responsible for prosecuting if they engaged in illegal activities.
"Very simply, we're going to be shouting from the rooftops, letting people know ... that Steve Cooley's campaign is being financed by oil companies and tobacco companies," said Ace Smith, Harris political consultant.
Temple suggested the claim is exaggerated, saying, "We've got 100,000 donors from all 50 states, so it's hard to make that point."
The Republican State Leadership Committee's Website describes it as the "largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the country, making a national impact one state at a time."
The group characterizes itself as the "only national organization whose mission is electing Republicans to the office of attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and legislator."
Temple told The Bee last week that the group is pushing for Cooley's election because he is "a conservative Republican" who would "provide a firewall between the federal government and the state."
"At a time when the federal government is overreaching, attorneys general often are on the front lines," Temple said.
Key contributors to the GOP group include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Justice Partnership, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Reynolds American, and Altria Group, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has filed a public record of its donors with California's secretary of state, as required by law, but Harris' complaint is that its top contributors also must be listed on the ad's disclaimer so that viewers have the information instantly.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has contributed $2.54 million to the group; the American Justice Partnership, $1.5 million; Altria, $1.3 million; WellPoint Inc., $736,500; AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, $435,000; and Reynolds American, $433,500, according to disclosures to the secretary of state.
FPPC spokesman Roman Porter declined comment on Harris' allegations pending consideration of the complaint. He said the agency must decide within 14 days whether to launch an investigation. Balloting is eight days from today.
Updated about 3:30 p.m. with information about the group's filing of donors with secretary of state.