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Until the last few days, the only celebrity status Charles “Chet” Hurth from Union, MO had enjoyed was for being sued ten years ago when he was a law student at St. Louis U. for biting a female law student on the butt–so hard she had to seek medical treatment.  Now Hurth, the city attorney for tiny New Haven is embroiled in something that’s grabbing headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle.

You’re probably aware by now of the latest dirty trick the Republicans are up to, a petition initiative drive in California.  They want Californians to vote in June on whether to split California’s electoral votes in the 2008 presidential election by awarding electoral votes by each congressional district rather than by the winner-take-all rules that have applied.

Under its proposed district-by-district system, Kerry – who won California’s popular vote in 2004 – would have received just 33 electoral votes, and Republican President Bush would have earned 22 votes – more than the number awarded in Illinois (21), Pennsylvania (21) or Ohio (20).


On September 24th, the group running the petition drive, Californians for Equal Representation, recorded its first and only contribution, $175,000 received on September 11th from Take Initiative America LLC in … Union, MO?  The registered agent for TIA is Hurth. 

An anomaly immediately jumps out:  TIA was formed on September 10th, and the only thing it has ever done is pass that 175 thou to Californians for Equal Representation.  It seems unlikely in the extreme that Hurth, who’s never had any interest in politics, much less those in California, would suddenly form a “grassroots group” to contribute a hefty sum to a petition drive in that state. In fact, until last March, he had never contributed to a political campaign.   And who got that contribution last March?  Hurth gave $2300 to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign.

He is one of several people connected to the California petition drive who are Giuliani supporters.  Democratic groups assert that the petition initiative drive itself is a Republican effort, probably backed specifically by Giuliani.  Giuliani’s campaign denies any connection to the petition. 

Democrats further believe that the contribution from TIA LLC is money laundering.  It is illegal in California to contribute money through an intermediary without disclosing the true donor.   California’s Fair Political Practices Commission is looking into the matter.

Democrats further insist that it is not all that surprising that Hurth would be serving clandestine interests.  They note that in 2004, he fronted for Choices for America, a conservative group that worked to get Nader on the ballot in key states where Kerry might win.

Republicans respond to these charges by basically saying, so what? 

Kevin Eckery, the spokesman for the proposed ballot measure, said “whether it’s a front for presidential candidates – even if it was, what’s the big deal?”

“We’ve said all along that some of the people we would approach for fundraising are contributors to various presidential candidates,” he said. “If somebody wants to support us because we’re trying to create a voting system that’s fairer … what’s the problem?”

It matters, say the Dems, for two reasons.  First, the petition organizers have been vociferously repeating, up and and down the state, that the drive is “by Californians, for Californians.”  And yet their only contribution so far is from Union, MO (population 7700), from a company that is almost certainly a front group for Republican interests.

It matters, secondly, because money laundering is taken seriously in California politics.  Two major fines have been levied in recent years ($95,000 in one case, $135,000 in another) for exactly this kind of offense.  In fact, the Sacramento attorney who wrote the proposed ballot measure, Thomas Hiltachk, unsuccessfully defended the woman who was fined $135,000.  So he ought to know better than to be up to the same tricks in this case.

The Democrats who are publicizing this illegal and underhanded funding are issuing a challenge to Californians for Equal Representation:  Come clean by noon on Monday (high noon!), or we will file a legal complaint forcing you to reveal who is the hidden hand behind this contribution.

Meanwhile, Hurth is lying low and refusing to answer his phone.  All we know about him is that he bit that law student in the bar that night ten years ago, then high fived his friends.  Hurth opined that he didn’t mean to hurt her and that she should have considered it a compliment.  After all, he had done the same thing to women at two fraternity parties at Vanderbilt and nobody sued.

The jurors didn’t take it as lightly.  They gave her $2,500 in actual damages and $25,000 in punitive damages.  This case may eventually make that one look like peanuts.