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The Los Angeles Times has tracked down more information on the $175,000 donated by a new Missouri-based group, Take Initiative America, to a now-defunct campaign to change how California awards its 55 electoral votes.

Here's some excerpts from the story, written by LA Times reporter Dan Morain:

"A confidant of Republican presidential contender Rudolph W. Giuliani, and one of the candidate's biggest contributors, was the source of a mystery $175,000 donation to a stalled initiative proposal seen as an attempt to help the GOP win a portion of California's 55 electoral votes.

"New York hedge fund billionaire Paul E. Singer issued a statement Friday acknowledging he gave the six-figure gift, ending speculation over its secrecy while fanning criticism of the Giuliani campaign.

"Giuliani said he knew nothing about it, and spokeswoman Maria Comella called the contribution 'completely independent from our campaign.'

"Singer oversees an $8 billion Wall Street investment fund, Elliott Associates, and serves as chairman of Giuliani's Northeast fund raising operation. Singer and people who work for Singer-related entities donated at least $182,000 to Giuliani in the first six months of the year, a Los Angeles Times review of Giuliani's campaign finance statements shows. One of his companies leases jets used by the GOP front-runner.

"Singer also is one of Giuliani's advisers and friends.

"To the consternation of Democrats, the Singer-backed initiative campaign sought to end California's winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes, dispensing them to candidates who won each of the state's congressional districts -- 19 of which are held by Republicans.

Foes of the initiative threatened legal action over the donation, contending that federal campaign finance law was violated if the Giuliani campaign had any role in it.

"In his statement, Singer made no mention of his relationship with Giuliani. Rather, he said he contributed to the California measure 'because I believe in proportional voting in the Electoral College.'

"...Singer's $175,000 contribution was dated Sept. 11 and funneled through a corporation called Take Initiative America. Attorney Charles A. Hurth III, of Union, Mo., a small town 50 miles outside St. Louis, created the corporation Sept. 10.

"Neither Hurth nor Washington, D.C., attorney Cleta Mitchell, who also represents the newly created corporation, would discuss the donation. Jonathan Wilcox, spokesman for Take Initiative America, said Friday he was not sure about the 'genesis of the relationship,' if any, between New York billionaire Singer and small-town lawyer Hurth.

"Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who organized a campaign to oppose the now dormant initiative, said Singer's acknowledgement that he gave the donation "puts this money laundering operation directly inside the Rudy Giuliani campaign."

"...Amid the controversy, the initiative campaign seemed to be faltering badly by week's end. Sacramento attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who wrote the initiative and was its chief proponent, resigned Thursday along with campaign spokesman Kevin Eckery, in part, because of the secrecy surrounding the donation. Also Friday, Mike Arno, who was heading the petition drive, said he ended his signature- gathering effort.

"Giuliani said Friday he believes that he has a '50-50 chance' of winning the popular vote in California and "wouldn't mind" leaving California's current electoral system in tact."

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