11:45 PM PDT on Thursday, April 8, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – A candidate who wears glasses, visits the dentist, enjoys tribal casinos and is tight with prison guards and firefighters might be sitting pretty these days in Riverside County’s 37th Senate District.

Dentists, optometrists and other special interests have dumped $900,000 into the campaign leading up to next week’s Senate special election, filling voters’ mailboxes and rolling out television ads.

All of the so-called independent expenditures have gone to support or oppose two of the seven candidates on Tuesday’s ballot: Assemblyman Bill Emmerson and former Assemblyman Russ Bogh, both Republicans.

Under state law, independent-expenditure committees can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money for TV advertisements, mailers and other efforts to support or oppose candidates, as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

Emmerson, an orthodontist, has benefited the most.

The California Dental Association’s political action committee reported spending $529,000 through Thursday afternoon to help him.
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In addition, the association has provided the bulk of the money for a committee called Riverside First, which has spent $112,000 on Emmerson’s behalf.

Together, that’s more than the $570,000 that Emmerson’s own campaign committees reported spending Jan. 1 through March 27.

Bogh, meanwhile, has gained from $143,000 in TV ads bankrolled by the optometrists and the unions representing correctional officers and state firefighters, and $93,000 worth of mailers by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which runs a successful casino near Banning.

“Russ Bogh has been a friend and ally of Morongo for many years. The tribe felt that it would like to help him in his election,” said the tribe’s spokesman, Patrick Dorinson.

Dentists’ role

Emmerson downplayed dentists’ support in his campaign, noting that other groups, such as doctors and real-estate interests, also have contributed to Riverside First.

He criticized TV ads opposing him by a group called Citizens for California Reform, which until recently was promoting a ballot measure to create a part-time Legislature.

Starting in late March, the California Optometrists Association, California Correctional Peace Officers Association and Cal Fire firefighters union each gave $49,750 to the committee. The anti-Emmerson ads rolled soon after.
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The contributions all were slightly less than the $50,000 threshold that requires a group’s name to be disclosed in an advertisement.

“I think people who donated to create a part-time Legislature didn’t realize that their money would pay for those ads,” Emmerson said.

Bogh said the dental association’s heavy involvement shows that Emmerson is viewed as a reliable vote for taxpayer-funded dental programs.

“They want people they can control. Bill is obviously bought and paid for by these guys,” Bogh said.

For Bogh, it is the second time in less than two years that he’s been on the wrong side of dentist money.

The association spent more than $360,000 to promote then-Assemblyman John Benoit against Bogh in the June 2008 primary for the same Senate seat.

Benoit became senator but resigned in November to become a Riverside County supervisor, prompting next week’s special election.

In 2004, dentists spent $520,000 to help Emmerson eke out a win in his first Assembly election.

Cathy Mudge, the association’s chief administrative officer, said the group thinks it is important to have legislators who have first-hand knowledge of dentistry.

Unless Emmerson wins, the Legislature next year will be without a dentist for the first time since 1998.

“He’s a dentist and we’re the dental association,” Mudge said of Emmerson. “We just very much value anybody who understands the perspective of that.”

Individual dentists also have rallied behind Emmerson.

His two Senate campaign committees have raised at least $58,000 from dentists, orthodontists and those in related fields.

The spending spree leading up to Tuesday’s election so far is short of the most independent expenditures in a single Inland race.

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