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Donations slow for Connerly's campaign

Fundraising lags as proposed amendments to end affirmative action in Florida await a court ruling.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- The donations that once surged into Ward Connerly's petition drive to end affirmative action in Florida trickled to just $525 in the first three months of this year, but Connerly vows his plan still could make the ballot this fall.

In the previous nine months, before his drive stalled while waiting for a ruling by the state Supreme Court, Connerly had raised $195,215 toward an estimated campaign cost of nearly $1-million. He has $5,500 in his Florida account.

Nonetheless, Connerly said the depleted account does not suggest support is declining.

"That does not mean that we're not raising pledges or that we could not pick up the phone and say, "Good news, give us the money,' " Connerly said Tuesday. "Please don't give any impression that we're not alive and well because that's not the case at all."

"I think he's basically shut down his operation," said Leon Russell, who heads up an effort to oppose Connerly's campaign.

The Connerly drive, called the Florida Civil Rights Initiative, has been under review by the state Supreme Court since Thanksgiving. Justices are deciding whether its proposed amendments to the state Constitution meet requirements for clarity and deal with a single subject.

Connerly said it makes no sense to collect donations while the immediate future of the drive is in question. He refused to set a deadline after which it would be too late to collect the remaining 390,000 or so signatures needed to get on the November ballot. The signatures would have to be collected by early summer.

"Obviously the options are narrowing every day," he said by telephone. "We have not reached the drop-dead point yet. I have it in my mind, but it really wouldn't make sense for me to say it."

If the drive does not make it to the ballot this year, because of timing or a negative court ruling, Connerly said he would not give up in Florida. "They may dodge a bullet for November 2000, but they're not going to dodge it indefinitely." Connerly's critics say the wording of the amendments is misleading and that voters might not realize the amendments would dismantle existing affirmative action programs. The court heard arguments in the case last month and could rule any day.

The primary amendment Connerly is proposing would "bar government from treating people differently based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public education, employment, or contracting."

In November Gov. Jeb Bush introduced his One Florida plan, a controversial attempt to establish a middle ground where race and gender are not factors in admissions, contracting and hiring. Bush wants the state to actively "embrace diversity" through other measures. Connerly has said One Florida does not go far enough. Democrats have said it goes too far.

One reason for the Connerly drive's low account balance, according to Division of Elections records, is a $31,000 refund the Florida Civil Rights Initiative paid in January to his parent organization. The American Civil Rights Coalition is based in Sacramento, Calif., where Connerly is a businessman and university regent.

But Connerly and his Florida campaign manager, Herb Harmon, both said Tuesday that the refund is no indication Connerly is pulling out of Florida. Harmon said the money can earn more interest in an ACRC account.

Connerly led successful drives against race- and gender-based affirmative action policies in California and Washington state.

In contrast to the Connerly drive's dwindling income, a counter drive supporting affirmative action raised $45,217 in the same three-month period and spent almost $30,000. FREE, a coalition of civil rights groups, raised most of the money in preparation for the March on Tallahassee, which brought 11,000 marchers to the Capitol last month to protest the Bush plan.

The national NAACP donated $25,000 to FREE, and a local media consulting firm, Andrews Plus, donated almost $13,000 to place print and radio ads statewide.

The FREE campaign has yet to register a single signature with the state. It must collect enough signatures to earn review by the court.

Russell, chairman of FREE, said he also is awaiting the court ruling because the FREE amendments are designed to counter Connerly item by item. "If they get him on deception but not on single subject, that has an impact," Russell said. "I think we're pretty clear."

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