WASHINGTON – Several of the nation's most powerful interest groups say that despite high stakes they plan to stay out of California's recall, citing the high cost of campaigning there, the chaos of the race or simply a policy of skipping state elections.
"This is a bit of a bizarre situation and we have decided not to get involved in it," said Jeff Trewhitt, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (search).
"There's no way," the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (search)'s political director, Bill Miller, said when asked whether the huge lobby, which represents 3 million businesses nationally, will get involved.
TechNet (search), a Silicon Valley-based high-tech group that throws fund-raisers for Democrats and Republicans, isn't endorsing anyone in the recall.
Other national groups steering clear include the National Association of Manufacturers, League of Conservation Voters, Business Industry Political Action Committee, American Medical Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Association of Trial Lawyers of America and National Association of Realtors.
"It's like throwing a pebble in the ocean, first of all," Miller said.
To have an impact running ads in a state with about 33 million people, a group would have to spend in the Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco media markets, and that would take millions of dollars the Chamber would rather spend in congressional races, Miller said.
There's also the difficulty of crafting an effective message in a race with dozens of candidates, including three Republicans, and two ballot questions: whether Democratic Gov. Gray Davis should be recalled, and if so, who should replace him.
"It's not like one of these things where you say `If you push this much money behind this message we're going to win,'" Miller said. "You talk to Republicans, Republicans are split on whether this (recall) is a good thing or not."
Echoing a conclusion reached by several other national groups, Miller said there is no incentive for the Chamber to depart from its tradition of leaving state-level races to its state members, like the California Chamber of Commerce.
That doesn't mean there won't be special-interest dollars in the race.
Many of those keeping their checkbooks closed have California counterparts with plenty of money of their own to spend in the recall. And some national groups are jumping in, or considering it.
The AFL-CIO (search) and several other national labor organizations plan a big push in the race. The AFL-CIO will send staff to California and help get out the union vote for Davis and the Democratic replacement candidate, Cruz Bustamante, spokeswoman Lane Windham said, adding that there's no price tag yet.
The Democratic Governors' Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America (search) plan pro-Democratic spending in the recall, but haven't decided how much. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is raising money to send to California to fight the recall.
"This is definitely the wild wild West in terms of what's going on," said NARAL political director Michael Meehan, who estimates his group has spent less than $100,000 so far communicating its anti-recall message to its members. "It's really been a sort of day-to-day `What are we able to do, legally, technically?'"
Others who may spend include the moderate Republican Leadership Council, which has endorsed Republican actor Arnold Schwarzenegger; and the National Rifle Association (search).
"The situation is very fluid. Two, three days ago, as you realize, (Republican) Bill Simon dropped out," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. "I think just about every interest group out there is in the same situation we're in. This is a first-in-kind type of experience."
For the gun-rights group, logistics are more of an issue than cost, Arulanandam said. The NRA typically sends a questionnaire to every candidate and rates them on their answers. With around 135 on the Oct. 7 ballot, there's some question whether that could be done in time, he said.
The Democratic Governors' Association sent $250,000 to Davis' anti-recall committee, then asked for it back while it tries to figure out whether it exceeded state limits, DGA spokeswoman Nicole Harburger said.
If it can't give the money to Davis' committee, it will find some other avenue, she said.
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (search), anyone weighing in on question one - whether Davis should be recalled - can spend unlimited amounts. Those getting involved in question two - if Davis is recalled, who should replace him - face some limits.