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    Groups seek defections on budget

    BY Greg Lucas
    07/13/2002
    by Greg Lucas on 7/13/02.

    In an apparent effort to prolong California's budget stalemate, three Washington, D.C., conservative anti-tax groups with ties to the GOP have launched attacks on two Democratic Assembly members trying to get them to vote against tax increases.

    The two lawmakers, Barbara Matthews of Tracy and Lou Correa of Santa Ana, represent Assembly districts with relatively low Democratic registration and are targets of the GOP this election.

    Democratic defections would probably sustain the budget gridlock, embarrassing Gov. Gray Davis and handing fodder to his GOP opponent, Bill Simon.

    "This shows there's a lot of politics being played. Look strategically at what members and where these ridiculous brochures are being directed. It stinks of politics," said Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, D-Culver City (Los Angeles County).

    Both Matthews and Correa are critical votes on the budget, which was supposed to be in place by July 1.

    The $100 billion spending plan passed the Senate but is stalled in the lower house. To pass it, all 50 Democrats -- and four Republicans -- need to vote for it. Every Democrat that peels off means another Republican must break with his party.

    The three anti-tax groups say they have not worked together on the media attacks, although one group took out newspaper ads, another aired a radio spot and the third sent mailers.

    The mailers and the ads criticize Gov. Gray Davis and legislative Democrats for overspending and now asking Californians to bail them out by paying higher taxes.

    The newspaper ad paid for by Citizens Against Government Waste, portrays the Democratic governor in front of a bloated pig representing the budget.

    "A broad coalition of taxpayers and local business owners who oppose tax increases want you to tell State Assemblyman Lou Correa -- NO NEW TAXES!," blares a mailer by the Citizens for a Sound Economy.

    The three groups are not required by law to reveal who their donors are or who may have paid for the media hits. All three declined to do so.

    They said the ads were part of multistate campaigns against proposed tax increases.

    "This is the seventh state we've done this in this year. It's part of a very large national campaign we're doing," said Marty Reiser, vice president of public affairs for Citizens for a Sound Economy, which paid for the mailers.

    Correa said only one of two groups could be behind the anti-tax ads: those opposed to a $2.2 billion increase in vehicle license fees contained in the budget, or the tobacco industry, which is fighting the budget's proposed 63-cents-a-pack boost in cigarette taxes.

    "These are special interest groups outside of California trying to affect my vote on the budget," said Correa.

    Correa said one of his constituents told him that he received a phone call about the taxes in the budget. The constituent asked who was paying for the phone bank and the caller replied, "Philip Morris."

    A call for comment from Philip Morris was not returned, and several Sacramento tobacco company lobbyists said they knew nothing about the ad campaign.

    But sources familiar with the effort said that it was a "tobacco industry play."

    A spokesman for the Republican National Committee said it was giving no money this election cycle to Americans for Tax Reform, the group that aired radio ads attacking Matthews and Correa.

    In 1997, the group was questioned by Congress about using $4.6 million from the RNC to send mailers to 150 congressional districts in 1996 saying Republicans would not cut Medicare benefits.E-mail Greg Lucas at glucas@sfchronicle.com.