Big money donated to stop recall of Denham

A whole lot of money is being contributed to state Sen. Jeff Denham's effort to fight a potential recall election.

While voter registrars in the five counties that make up Denham's district prepare to count signatures backing his recall, the Merced Republican has collected more than $500,000 to fight the attempt.

As of the end of 2007, according to the California secretary of state's Web site, the Friends of Jeff Denham Against the Recall had collected $461,874.69 and spent about $197,000.

That doesn't include donations made this year, including $10,000 from Blue Cross of California on Feb. 1 and Hewlett-Packard last month.

But some of the biggest players in California politics also have gotten involved in helping a lawmaker who represents a mostly rural part of the state.

American Indian gambling groups, private racetracks and card rooms, and prison guards' political action committees are the bulk of the big spenders:

Los Angeles Casinos PAC, a consortium of card rooms, donated $50,000 last month.

The Pechanga Band of Mission Indians, which just got voter approval to add more slot machines to its Southern California casino, also donated $50,000.

Native Americans and Peace Officers Independent Expenditure Committee donated $49,000 in August.

A spokesman for the anti-recall effort said one shouldn't read too much into such donations, other than that those groups believe in responsible government.

The recall effort started last summer, after Denham refused to vote for a state budget that wasn't balanced. Many believe that state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat, pushed the recall effort as payback.

"Putting money up is also saying, 'I oppose legislative leaders bullying members,' " said Tim Clark, an anti-recall campaign spokesman.

The pro-recall side says voters shouldn't take that at face value.

Paul Hefner, a pro-recall spokesman, said Denham has sponsored legislation that benefits gambling interests in recent years.

But a list of Denham-sponsored legislation on his Web site lists three bills having to do with horse racing and none that address Indian gambling. Two bills would have required the state to consider selling prison properties, one of them in Denham's district in Soledad.

In an e-mail, Hefner said only one bill, which allowed California racetracks to offer expanded betting for races at other tracks, was signed into law.

There's also some evidence to support one of Clark's contentions -- that many of the top contributors to the anti-recall effort tend to spend on all politicians, Democrats and Republicans.

The Los Angeles Casinos PAC, among others, contributed $250,000 in August to the Voter Education and Registration Fund. Other contributors include Hewlett-Packard and Pechanga Band of Mission Indians.

What gets weird is that the Voter Education fund, which was created by Perata, contributed some of the early money to start the recall effort against Denham.

In other words, some of the donating groups first gave to one side, then later gave to the other, a classic "cover your backside" way of donating.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles, said this is puzzling but explainable.

Interest groups aren't so interested in the result, he said, as having access to the winner.

So whether Denham is recalled or not, believe that the big spenders will keep contributing to his anti-recall effort and to candidates who want to replace him if the recall is successful.