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Firms pull out stops in 211 campaign

What does it take to move voters against California's shareholder initiative, Proposition 211? Companies and industry groups are doing everything from putting up billboards to serving ice cream.

What does it take to move voters against California's shareholder initiative, Proposition 211? 3Com (COMS) today is banking on a 26-foot banner to spread its message, while Intel (INTC) is withholding forward-looking statements from investors and analysts. Still another company, Varian, is taking no chances and is using the ultimate draw--ice cream--to attract people to its events.

These efforts, along with industry group campaigns, are designed to fight Proposition 211 on the November ballot. The initiative, opponents say, would make it easier for investors to file so-called frivolous lawsuits and target companies that don't deliver on forward-looking profit predictions.

"Most companies are doing internal outreach through flyers, newsletters, information packets, and lunchtime discussions," said Tina Harris, a spokeswoman with the Taxpayers Against Frivolous Lawsuits, a trade group that opposes the initiative.

Varian (VAR) is another company that is holding events to build opposition to the initiative. The company has scheduled an ice cream social with its employees on October 21 in an effort to rally troops in its fight against the proposition.

"I think as we get closer to the election, we'll see more companies doing events. Right now, most companies are concentrating on the educational process with their employees," said John Hatch, a spokesman for the American Electronics Association, another group that opposes the initiative. "When you add all of them together, it makes a difference, and that's the way [elections] work."

Those efforts, however, have not deterred the groups that are supporting Proposition 211. "I think these are just [public relations] stunts and scare tactics that don't mean a thing," said Sean Crowley, a spokesman with Citizens for Retirement Protection and Security.

While the opposition to the measure in the high-tech community has been well-documented, supporters include the American Association of Retired People, the California State Employees Association, and law firms that specialize in shareholder lawsuits, such as Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach. These groups have launched campaigns of their own, highlighting remarks by investors who say they have lost significant amounts of money--including the bulk of their retirement funds, in some cases--because of misleading information from companies.

Two recent surveys have indicated mixed opinions among California voters on the issue.

A Field Poll, conducted between August 29 to September 7, found that 41 percent of the 601 people surveyed favored Proposition 211. The undecided brought up the ranks with 32 percent, while those opposed stood at 27 percent.

But a Los Angeles Times survey taken September 14 to 17 found that 42 percent of the 510 residents queried opposed the initiative, while 32 percent were undecided and 26 percent supported it.