Capitol Alert

A billionaire hired a Brexit strategist to help divide California

A political strategist who helped lead a controversial Brexit campaign was hired to work on a ballot measure that would split California into three states.

Tim Draper, a tech billionaire and the main proponent of the plan to divide the state, reported a payment to Gunster Strategies for less than $6,500 in November related to a successful effort to gather enough voter signatures to land on the 2018 ballot.

The Washington D.C. firm and its CEO Gerry Gunster played a key role in the United Kingdom's vote to exit the European Union in 2016 through a controversial "Leave.EU" campaign. Britain's Electoral Commission later fined the campaign for failing to disclose payments to Gunster Strategies and other violations..

Gunster Strategies did not respond to requests for comment and directed an inquiry to Jessica Garcia, a spokeswoman for the "Cal 3" campaign. Garcia declined to explain Gunster's role in the ballot measure.

The breadth of Gunster's involvement in the campaign has not been divulged in state filings thus far. Draper personally funded the signature-gathering effort as a "major donor," and the single payment to Gunster is buried in the tech mogul's state filings. Citizens for Cal 3, the campaign finance committee supporting the measure, has not filed any spending reports yet.

"It’s ironic that billionaire Tim Draper is paying a D.C.-based team that has a history of deploying the Trump techniques of divisiveness and a disregard for the facts to run his campaign to split up the Golden State," said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the opposition campaign ONECALIFORNIA. "Californians take great pride in our state, and the sleazy politics of division that Draper's consultants used in their Brexit campaign will have no appeal here."

Arron Banks, the main financial backer of Leave.EU, previously credited Gunster for crafting an "America-style media approach" and advising him that "facts don't work," according to The Guardian. Banks told The Guardian that campaigns have to "connect with people emotionally. It's the Trump success."

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