A Los Angeles Spanish-language network mogul and major campaign donor to Gov. Pete Wilson and California Democrats alike has pumped $1.5 million into the campaign to defeat the June ballot measure that seeks to all but end bilingual education.
According to a campaign disclosure statement released Thursday, A. Jerrold Perenchio, chairman and chief executive of Univision Communications Inc., a Los Angeles-based Spanish-language television network, made the contribution in late April. His contribution prompted a separate $650,000 donation by the politically influential California Teachers Association to the opposition campaign, Citizens for an Educated America, said Richie Ross, political consultant to the group.
The result is that the opposition campaign, which has consistently trailed in the polls, has bought $2.7 million in television time statewide on both English- and Spanish-language stations.
The first ads ran earlier this month, and Ross said Thursday that a new spot will start airing statewide on Tuesday. He said the ad will highlight the fact that the four major candidates for governor — Democrats Al Checchi, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis and Rep. Jane Harman and Republican state Attorney General Dan Lungren — all oppose Proposition 227.
A spokeswoman for Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley software entrepreneur and author of Proposition 227, criticized Perenchio’s donation as a raw demonstration of corporate self-interest.
“Perenchio is certainly placing financial gain ahead of children’s interests by attempting to ensure that Latino children do not learn English for many, many years,” said Unz spokeswoman Sheri Annis. “His large contribution makes it clear that it would be bad for his profits if children are to learn English.”
Retorted Ross, “That’s the single most racist statement made in this campaign. … The single condition that Perenchio put on his money was that none of it would be used on his own network.”
The Perenchio money is being used to finance the English-language ads, Ross said.
Anne Corley, a spokeswoman for Univision, declined to comment directly on Perenchio’s donation. But she did say Univision has editorialized against Proposition 227 on its stations in California, using a “broad spectrum of community leaders.”
“We are one of the most trusted institutions in the Latino community,” she said. “… So when we see something like 227, which we consider to be bad public policy, we believe it’s our responsibility to use our medium responsibly to communicate the issues to our community.”
In the October 1997 listing of the 400 richest Americans by Forbes business magazine, Perenchio was ranked 94th.
According to media reports, Perenchio gained his wealth from the entertainment industry — he was the chief executive of Tandem Productions, which produced the TV comedy “All in the Family.” He bought Univision from Hallmark Cards Inc. in 1992 with Mexican and Venezuelan partners.
Perenchio, a Republican, has been an active political donor.
>From 1994 to 1996, he contributed $407,000 to Wilson’s campaign coffers, including $131,000 in 1994 when the governor successfully sought re-election and a single donation of $200,000 in December 1996. Wilson earlier this week endorsed Proposition 227, which would impose a statewide system of English immersion instruction for students with limited English-speaking skills.
In addition, Perenchio gave about $207,000 to state Attorney General Dan Lungren in 1996, including a single $200,000 in December of that year.
But he also has given to Democrats as well, records show. In February, he gave Davis $100,000, according to campaign disclosure records.