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Competing radio ads spotlight wealthy Stanford physicist Charles T. Munger Jr.'s deep-pockets support for incumbent Assemblywoman Beth Gaines against challenger Andy Pugno in a Placer County-based Assembly district.

Spirit of Democracy, an advocacy group funded largely by Munger, has poured more than $175,000 into a radio and mail promotional campaign for Gaines this month. Pugno is attempting to create a backlash by painting the GOP activist as a liberal.

Munger is a major GOP donor and was a key financial backer of redistricting reform. He has pushed to moderate the Republican Party by downplaying divisive issues such as abortion, gun rights and same-sex marriage.

Munger's sister, civil rights attorney and Democrat Molly Munger, is pushing a measure for the November ballot that would generate about $10 billion annually by raising income taxes on a sliding scale for all but the poorest California workers for 12 years.

In his 60-second radio ad for Gaines, which began running last week, Munger's Spirit of Democracy touts the Rocklin Republican -- who has pledged not to raise taxes -- as a fiscal conservative:

"Feeling like an ATM for government?" Munger's radio ad says. "You have a friend in Republican businesswoman Beth Gaines for state Assembly. 'I'm appalled at the way state government handles our tax dollars,' she says. And it's not just talk."

Pugno counters with a 60-second ad, beginning this week, that promotes himself as a conservative who served as lead attorney for Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.

"Don't let a liberal Bay Area billionaire buy the election for Beth Gaines," Pugno's ad says.

Commenting this week about the Munger-funded radio ad, Pugno said it demonstrates that the GOP activist "does not want a strong, effective conservative holding this seat."

Dave Gilliard, Gaines' political consultant, said the campaign has no idea why Munger is supporting Gaines, but added, "Perhaps he has a problem with trial lawyers?" The jab is a reference to Pugno's ownership of a small law office.

Munger's group and other independent expenditure committees can spend unlimited sums for political advocacy but are barred by state law from coordinating their efforts with a particular candidate.

Richard Temple, campaign consultant for the Spirit of Democracy group, said that Pugno's attack on Munger is laughable because the latter is a Republican leader in California who has done more to elect GOP candidates than "Andy Pugno will ever dream of doing."

Temple said that Munger's Spirit of Democracy is looking to assist in races "where there's a dramatic difference between the two candidates on their ability to be a good legislator and also (where) they have a broader appeal that will attract voters, not only Republican voters but independent voters so that we can broaden the Republican Party appeal."

* Updated at 3:35 p.m. to add quotes from Richard Temple and from Andy Pugno.


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