Donors fuel Prop. 227 debate

Big money: TV network boss makes large contribution to opposition; L.A. mayor gives a lift to `yes' forces.

The campaigns on both sides of an anti-bilingual education ballot measure have taken their debate to the airwaves, thanks partly to huge donations by two wealthy Republicans from Southern California.

The No on 227 campaign has snagged the biggest contribution of either side to date — $1.5 million from Jerry Perenchio, the majority shareholder of the Spanish-language network Univision. The campaign is using the money to pay for television ads that depict the initiative as a waste of taxpayer money.

“I’ve never met the man, but people tell me he was incensed because he thinks the initiative is unfair to children,” said Sacramento political consultant Richie Ross, who is running the opposition campaign.

Television and radio spots — many aimed at Spanish-speaking Latinos
— now regularly focus on Proposition 227, the hotly debated June 2 ballot measure that would ban most bilingual education programs in the state.

The Yes on 227 campaign, meanwhile, got a big lift this week when Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan announced that he spent $250,000 of his own money to produce and air a pro-227 television commercial.

Riordan in spot

The 30-second spot features Riordan and his daughter, Mary Beth Ferrel,
urging viewers in Spanish to support the initiative.

Riordan, who already has endorsed the measure, apparently produced the ad and bought air time on his own, without consulting the Proposition 227 campaign.

Both sides have been courting Latino voters with their media campaigns.
The opposition began airing Spanish-language TV and radio ads this month.
And the Proposition 227 campaign has been taping twin Spanish and English spots from the start, in what Unz calls the “first truly bilingual campaign.”

“We certainly believe it’s important to have not just a political win, but a moral win with the community most affected by this initiative,”
spokeswoman Sheri Annis said.

The Perenchio donation — which came in a couple of weeks ago — was a huge financial boost for the No on 227 campaign, which originally expected to be outspent by multimillionaire Ron Unz, the initiative’s author.

Through Saturday, the opposition campaign took in $3.1 million in cash contributions, including $1 million from the California Teachers Association,
according to partial finance records the campaign released Thursday.

That appears to be more than double the amount received so far by the Proposition 227 campaign, which refused to release its latest spending reports,
due to be mailed to the state Thursday. But Annis said the campaign has raised about $1.2 million so far, including about $700,000 from Unz himself.

The recent big donations demonstrate how much opposition there is, said No on 227 spokeswoman Holli Thier. “They’re opposing it, and they’re showing it by opening their pocketbooks.”

Annis said the proposition’s campaign was not overly concerned about losing the fundraising race, particularly since the ballot measure is polling strongly with voters.

Perenchio, a wealthy Republican movie producer, owns a controlling interest in Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc., the nation’s largest Spanish-language television network. The company operates 21 TV stations,
reaching about 80 percent of the nation’s 18 million Spanish-language viewers.

In addition to the No on 227 donation, four of Univision’s stations have been airing editorials against the proposition.

Unz’s accusation

Unz suggested the editorials and the Perenchio donations were motivated by Univision’s financial interests.

“Why is this political donor suddenly so interested in protecting Latino children from learning English in schools?” Unz said. “Is it because the more English-speaking children there are, the less Spanish-speaking viewers they have?”

Univision spokeswoman Anne Corley would not comment on Perenchio’s donation.
But she said network executives decided they had a moral responsibility to take a stand on an issue of such interest to viewers.

“We consider this to be a responsible use of the medium,” Corley said. “We are in a highly trusted position in the Latino community,
and this is an important issue.”

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