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Group claims 'Dump Denham' petitioners broke election law

Friends of Jeff Denham Against the Recall filed a complaint with Attorney General Jerry Brown's office earlier this week alleging that the signature gatherers have been violating state elections code in their effort to oust the senator.

"I expect the attorney general to investigate anytime there's any wrongdoing," Denham said in a phone interview, "and when he finds any wrong doing to prosecute to the letter of the law."

On his anti-recall Web site, Denham posted taped conversations between his campaign workers and the people in front of shopping centers collecting signatures, who admit that they're from out of the area -- from as far away as Michigan.

The workers, some paid $3 a signature, also mislead the residents by explaining that their signature is needed to make upgrades to Highway 99, according to the conversations.

State election code specifies that only voters within the elected official's district may gather signatures, and the punishment for breaking the law includes fines and possible jail time.

While the attorney general reviews the complaint, California Democratic Party campaign adviser Bob Mulholland pledges that the effort will continue and hints that they are almost done collecting signatures.

"Denham is not going to have a good holiday season," he said. "The numbers are coming in. There will be an election in 2008 to recall Jeff Denham."

The Dump Denham campaign, spearheaded by Sacramento Democrats, needs to turn in 31,084 signatures by Feb. 13 to put the recall on a ballot.

Mulholland wouldn't disclose who the Democrats would choose to run against Denham.

He dismissed the allegations of any illegal activity, asserting that the workers live in California now and could register to vote.

Republicans hired signature mercenaries from out of state to recall Gov. Gray Davis, he said. Courts tend to favor the groups gathering signatures in recall campaigns.

A 1980 Secretary of State opinion declared that signatures on a petition should not be invalidated because the person who gathered them isn't a registered voter.

Denham admits that the recall effort concerns him, especially while the legislature faces a deficit and is creating a state water plan. "These partisan games are not only a disappointment, but they're a distraction," he said.

The recall, with its links to the Democratic Party and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, has created tension in the Capitol, Denham said.

The effort began in August when he refused to vote for the budget because he wanted $700 million cut from the $145 billion budget.

The state is now faced with a deficit of $10 billion to $15 billion, and Denham spokesman Tim Clark said the senator's political enemies continue to attack him. "They're trying to bludgeon Jeff Denham into submission," he said.

He's urging Denham supporters to file individual complaints about election code violations with the district attorneys in Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito and Stanislaus counties.

Besides breaking the law, Clark said the recall goes against the spirit of the process because it's meant to be a safeguard for voters, not a tool for retaliation by fellow politicians.

Opponents also allege that Denham's vote against the budget means he wasn't working to fix Highway 99 or repair levees.

Though other Republicans opposed the budget, Clark said the state's Democratic Party honed in on Denham because he was elected in a district that should be represented by a member of its party.

As of September, 45 percent of the 320,493 voters are registered Democrat, and 37 percent are registered Republican.

Mulholland predicted that the pro-Democratic Party momentum will sweep the senator from office. "(2008) is going to be a terrible year for Republicans," he predicted.

However, Denham was elected by a landslide in 2006, garnering 61 percent of the votes, and when it comes to a recall, the court of public opinion will decide the senator's future.

Reporter Scott Jason can be reached at 209 385-2453 or sjason@mercedsun-star.com.

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