A measure to suspend California’s climate protection law, AB 32, is picking up political support among Republican officials. It remains unclear if the initiative--which would relieve the state’s power industry of billions of dollars of expenditures in the decade ahead--has enough financial backing to make it onto the ballot. Facing a petition deadline this spring, the group running the initiative--the People’s Advocate--largely is operating on $27,700 in loans, plus a $100,000 forgiven loan from the [former Governor Gray] Davis Recall Committee. Only two companies have contributed to the initiative a meager total of $3,500 according to a January 31 report filed with the California Secretary of State. Yet, to qualify the measure for the November 2 ballot, the People’s Advocate must collect 685,000 signatures by April.16. That’s a task some observers say typically costs at least $3 million. A People’s Advocate staffer--who would speak only on a not-for-attribution basis--said that the group does plan to use paid signature gatherers to qualify the measure, as well as volunteers and the internet. “The money is in,” claimed the staffer, though Tom Costa, the chief executive officer of the organization, did not return Circuit’s phone calls seeking confirmation. “They’re starting very late,” said Steve Maviglio, consultant to Californians for Clean Energy & Jobs, a group formed in the past weeks to oppose the measure should it qualify for the ballot. He said there is no evidence the People’s Advocate has raised enough money to run a successful signature gathering campaign and can’t get enough signatures using the internet and volunteers alone. The Sacramento-based consultant--who served as a spokesperson for Governor Davis--said that since his former boss was recalled the political team pushing the anti-AB 32 measure has had an “unimpressive” record. He cited, for instance, its recent failure to qualify a measure to create a part-time Legislature. People’s Advocate statements profess that the AB 32 measure will be more successful than the organization’s other recent gambits due to the state’s severe recession. Until the state’s 12.4 percent unemployment rate drops to 5.5. percent on a sustained basis, the initiative would suspend implementing AB 32--specifically the California Air Resources Board’s carbon cap-and-trade program, 33 percent renewable energy standard, low carbon fuel standard, and AB 32 administration levy on power plants and other emitters, according to a February 2 Legislative Analyst report. Costa, who was instrumental in the Davis recall, took over People’s Advocate when its founder Paul Gann died in 1989. Gann became renown in 1978 for helping Howard Jarvis get voters to approve Proposition 13, which limited the power of local governments and the state to raise taxes. The next year Gann succeeded with a ballot initiative to limit state spending. Since then Costa has pushed numerous other successful initiatives, including term limits for state lawmakers and the Davis recall in 2003. To help suspend AB 32, People’s Advocate returned to the consultant it used in the Davis recall election, Western Pacific Research based in Bakersfield and headed by Mark Abernathy. Western Pacific backs Republican candidates in the Central Valley. Chairing the campaign with Costa are Assemblymember Dan Logue (R-Chico) who originally carried the measure as a bill in the Legislature until if failed early this year, and U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA). They are supported by a long list of Republicans in the Legislature and State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor. The leading contender in the race, Meg Whitman, supports suspending AB 32 until the economy improves, but is not on record as backing the initiative. Republicans hope that if they can qualify the initiative for the ballot, they can leverage public concern about the economy to pass it. Typical is Poizner, who cited the state’s unemployment rate and economic recession when he endorsed the initiative. “California should not continue to implement a law that will make these problems worse,” he stated. A survey late last month for the AB 32 Implementation Group--which includes Sempra Energy and other companies in the energy field--showed that when voters are told about AB 32 cost and economic concerns, they turn against the law. “People are really concerned about their jobs and the economy at this time and that’s taking precedence over AB 32 implementation,” said Shelly Sullivan, director of the AB 32 Implementation Group. The organization has not endorsed the initiative, instead favoring a carbon cap-and-trade policy that allows liberal use of offsets to lower the cost of greenhouse gas reductions, she said. Maviglio characterized the group’s survey as a push poll, designed to drive voters to a preconceived opinion, but he added that environmental groups, green businesses, and even major corporations are taking the initiative seriously. “It would sap California’s green energy efforts,” he said, which involve 3,000 businesses and support 45,000 jobs. That’s why, he said, numerous environmental groups and businesses formed Californians for Clean Energy & Jobs, a political committee to raise money and oppose the measure to suspend AB 32 should it qualify for the ballot.