There was never any doubt in my mind that California’s Prop 98 would make huge chunks of money for some people. The initiative purports to be about eminent domain reform, but it also eliminates rent control throughout the state. Proponents can wax poetic about protecting small homeowners against government’s seizure of their property, but at the end of the day there’s big bucks to be made by raising rents and tossing people out of their homes.

Consider Sam Zell, the new chair of the Los Angeles Times’ corporate parent company. According to Capitol Weekly (February 28), his firm will rake in about $15 million, if Prop 98 is approved by voters in the June election. In addition to his position at the Times, Zell is chair of Equity Lifestyle Properties, an outfit in Chicago that owns over 100,000 rental units in the U.S. and Canada. Here in California, Equity has 28 properties, including rent-controlled mobile home parks.

The $15 million figure comes from Equity’s 2006 annual report in which the company states that “the annual rent subsidy to tenants in these jurisdictions (mobile home parks in California) may be in excess of $15 million.”

It’s not the first time that Zell has engaged in a fight against rent control. His company has already gone after rent control in several places in California.

Zell isn’t the only landlord who’s backing 98. To date, landlords and landlord groups appear to have given a huge portion of the $2.4 million that the Yes on 98 campaign has raised. Zell’s company has contributed $50,000. The California Apartment Owners Association has shelled out a whooping $291,000.

Proponents of the measure deny that landlords have given the most money. Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which put 98 on the ballot, says that his group and one other are the biggest contributors. He describes eminent domain as the “core of our initiative.” I’m not buying any of it.

As Kathy Fairbanks of No on 98 has said, “Rent control provisions were specifically included to attract funding -- otherwise it wouldn’t have even made it on the ballot. Landlords and the groups that represent them have contributed 85 percent of the funding so far.” A similar eminent domain measure that didn’t include rent control repeal, lost at the ballot in California in 2006.

With Zell and other big landlords and landlord groups involved in the campaign, can opponents of 98 expect fair treatment from one of the state’s largest newspapers? Probably not. Those of us who support affordable housing as a human right never look for balance and fairness from the state’s mainstream media.

Although Times Editorial Editor Jim Newton insists that neither Zell’s “role in the campaign” nor any of his “financial interests” will influence the paper’s ultimate stand on the measure, I have my doubts. Newspapers are influenced by monied interests, whether they admit it or not. It’s the sad reality of our times that the old crusading editor of yesteryear is a thing of the past. Or perhaps it was merely a Hollywood invention to begin with.

The mainstream press will never tell us this, but the reality is that Prop. 98 is a cash cow for folks who already have plenty.

Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical southern Italian queer atheist writer and performer with a website: www.avicollimecca.com