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A $1 million contribution from the owner of Mercury General Insurance Corp. to the California Republican Party this month has helped the GOP push a referendum challenge to the state's newly drawn Senate districts.

But George Joseph did not earmark his million-dollar donation for any specific purpose, said Mark Standriff, state GOP spokesman.

"Obviously, our focus right now is the Senate map referendum, but we also have a number of other programs, including what is probably the most aggressive and comprehensive voter registration program in our history," Standriff said.

Jeff Green, Mercury General spokesman, released a written statement Wednesday that said Joseph contributed the money "with no restrictions" on the Republican Party's use of it.

"The redistricting referendum was part of the discussion, which included many topics, but it's up to the party to decide how the money should be spent," Green said.

Joseph's contribution to the state GOP on Oct. 13 represents more than half of the $1.86 million in recent donations to the party's coffers, from which $936,000 has been sent since late September to bolster the referendum effort, records show.

Other major contributors to the state Republican Party include AT&T, California Cable TeleComm Political Action Committee, and Doris Fisher, wife of the late Donald Fisher, who founded the GAP clothing chain. Each donated $50,000, according to documents filed Tuesday.

California's 40 newly drawn Senate maps, created by an independent citizens commission, are the target of the referendum drive.

State Republican officials say the new Senate boundary lines give Democrats an advantage, perhaps allowing that party to secure the two additional seats needed to gain the two-thirds majority in the upper house.

Passage of tax or fee increases requires passes by a two-thirds majority in each house of the Legislature.

To give voters the opportunity to approve or reject the new Senate maps in a statewide election next year, the referendum drive must collect 504,760 valid voter signatures by Nov. 14.

Roughly 500,000 signatures have been gathered thus far, but the goal is to collect 700,000 to provide a cushion for signatures that are disqualified for various reasons, according to David Gilliard, who is running the campaign.

In addition to the $936,000 contributed to the referendum drive by the state GOP since late September, the party previously had donated $188,000, bringing its grand total to $1.12 million -- 75 percent of all money collected in the campaign, records show.

Current or previous state senators have kicked in $215,000, of which $75,000 came from Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel. One congressman has donated to the drive, U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of Atwater, who contributed $25,000, records show.

State Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said that voters are not likely to reject the new Senate maps, even if they reach the ballot, because boundary lines were drawn by an independent citizens commission.

Besides, Burton said, the GOP conceivably could fare worse if maps are redrawn by the California Supreme Court. "The Republicans are hypocritical," he said. "They wanted this thing to be a fair, open process -- and it was. It created districts. Now they don't think they can win on their own."

The coalition heading the referendum drive, named Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting, also filed a lawsuit asking the California Supreme Court to kill the new Senate maps. The high court rejected the challenge today, 7-0.

In decades past, legislators were responsible for drawing the state's legislative and congressional boundaries every 10 years.

* Updated at 6:15 p.m. to add written statement by Jeff Green of Mercury General.


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