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Ballot measure signatures set for submission

Initiative would limit use of public employee union dues on politics.

A campaign committee that is trying to stop public employee unions from spending their members' dues on politics is expected to turn in petitions today to qualify a measure for the ballot.

Lew Uhler of the Coalition for Employee Rights said Monday that he plans to present election officials with petitions containing an estimated 600,000 names sometime this morning. Uhler said he needs 411,000 valid signatures to put his "paycheck protection" initiative on the ballot.

He predicted the measure would be ready if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls for a special election in November on his state overhaul plan or, if not, for the next regularly scheduled primary in June 2006.

Schwarzenegger has not endorsed Uhler's initiative to restrict use of union dues unless union members give their consent, although the Republican governor has expressed support for the concept. Either way, Uhler sees his initiative working hand-in-hand with Schwarzenegger's agenda.

"I think the whole initiative convoy approach is a positive one," Uhler said. "And to have this measure as part of that convoy, whether it's formally endorsed or tacitly acknowledged (by Schwarzenegger), is very positive."

Labor groups, meanwhile, rallied Monday on the south steps of the Capitol to blast the initiative as an attack on their right to participate in the political process. They charged that Schwarzenegger is behind the initiative whether he acknowledges it publicly or not.

"The governor is trying to silence us," said Brian Rice, president of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District firefighters union, while nearly 150 public employee union members stood on the steps behind him with blue tape across their mouths.

Before the people behind him ripped off the tape and chanted that they were ready to go toe-to-toe with Schwarzenegger, Rice exhorted the crowd by shouting into a loudspeaker.

Representatives of the union-backed Alliance for a Better California also questioned the funding of Uhler's signature-gathering, noting he listed a $284,000 debt to the National Petition Management firm that paid workers on the street to get the names for the anti-union coalition.

"That is an extension of credit, which is a loan under the Political Reform Act, which is a reportable transaction," said Lance Olson, an attorney for the alliance. "They're hiding the ball."

Jeff Flint, a spokesman for the Small Business Action Committee, which has provided almost all of the reported funding for the Coalition for Employee Rights, scoffed at the suggestion that his side is trying to hide anything or is committing a funding-disclosure violation.

"If they want to allege that ... a political campaign is committing a crime any time it spends money faster than it can raise it, I think half the Legislature is in trouble," Flint said.

Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, cut a television ad that began airing Monday, extolling one of his initiatives that proposes giving his office more authority to control state spending.

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