‘Cal­i­for­nia first,’ fundrais­ers urge

Demo­cratic ef­forts aim to put cam­paign cash to work in seven state House dis­tricts.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - MARK Z. BARABAK mark.barabak@la­times.com

Cal­i­for­nia feeds the world with its bounty, fu­els the econ­omy with its in­no­va­tion, fires the imag­i­na­tion with its cre­ativ­ity.

There is one ex­port, though, that is far less cel­e­brated: the un­ceas­ing tor­rent of out­bound cam­paign cash.

For po­lit­i­cal fundrais­ers, Cal­i­for­nia has long been the Big Rock Candy Moun­tain, ex­ca­vated, mined and, ul­ti­mately, shafted by can­di­dates of both par­ties who use the boo­dle to run for pres­i­dent in Iowa or New Hamp­shire, or Con­gress in East Po­dunk.

In the last elec­tion cy­cle alone, nearly $800 mil­lion was raised in Cal­i­for­nia, ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, which tal­lies fed­eral con­tri­bu­tions of $200 or more. (Given the mas­sive suc­cess of Bernie San­ders’ in­sur­gent small-dol­lar fundrais­ing, the amount was doubt­less even higher.)

While it’s impossible to say how much of that Cal­i­for­nia money was spent within the state, it’s fair to as­sume — given the lop­sided na­ture of most con­gres­sional con­tests — it was a small frac­tion.

Now Demo­cratic ef­forts are un­der­way to put Cal­i­for­nia first, direct­ing more cam­paign cash whence it came by fo­cus­ing on seven tar­geted House dis­tricts in the Cen­tral Val­ley and the south­ern part of the state.

The party needs to pick up 24 seats to win con­trol of the House in 2018. A sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment close to home, the ar­gu­ment goes, could help Democrats a good dis­tance to­ward that goal — it’s hard to see them tak­ing con­trol with­out pick­ing up seats in Cal­i­for­nia — and give donors in the state a more tan­gi­ble stake in the midterm elec­tions.

‘Now there’s an ef­fort to en­sure their hard-earned dol­lars make a dif­fer­ence in their own com­mu­ni­ties.’ — Michael Eggman, founder of Red to Blue Cal­i­for­nia, on the push for in-state cam­paign do­na­tions

“We don’t mind help­ing other peo­ple,” said Michael Eggman, who founded a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, Red to Blue Cal­i­for­nia, to steer money into the seven dis­tricts. “But now there’s an ef­fort to en­sure their hard-earned dol­lars make a dif­fer­ence in their own com­mu­ni­ties. Or if not their own com­mu­ni­ties, their aunt’s back­yard in Bak­ers­field or their daugh­ter’s back­yard in San Diego.”

Eggman, a farmer and bee­keeper by trade, twice tried un­suc­cess­fully to un­seat Repub­li­can Rep. Jeff Den­ham of Tur­lock, one of the tar­geted seven. (All rep­re­sent dis­tricts that voted in 2016 for Hil­lary Clin­ton; na­tion­wide there were 23 Repub­li­can law­mak­ers elected in dis­tricts car­ried by the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.)

The in­ten­tion, Eggman said, is to raise and spend $1 mil­lion in each of the seven Cal­i­for­nia dis­tricts, not just on con­gres­sional con­tests but on races for city coun­cils, boards of su­per­vi­sors and other down-bal­lot of­fices. “The idea is to tar­get the best op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he said, “and start putting the pieces in place.”

The long-range goal, very much in vogue among Democrats these days, is build­ing the party in­fra­struc­ture and a bench of can­di­dates to ul­ti­mately take over some of the few re­main­ing GOP sanc­tu­ar­ies in Cal­i­for­nia. “We’re in it,” Eggman vowed, “for the long haul.”

Along with Den­ham, the tar­geted Repub­li­can law­mak­ers are Han­ford’s David Val­adao, Palm­dale’s Steve Knight, Fullerton’s Ed Royce, Irvine’s Mimi Walters, Costa Mesa’s Dana Rohrabacher and Vista’s Dar­rell Issa.

Op­er­at­ing on a separate but par­al­lel track, for­mer Rep. Ellen Tauscher has launched Fight Back Cal­i­for­nia, which has the same po­lit­i­cal de­signs but a dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

Rather than ad­ver­tis­ing or cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, Tauscher’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee plans to in­vest in re­search, door-to-door can­vass­ing and other spade­work in­tended to soften up the GOP law­mak­ers and learn what tick­et­split­ters — vot­ers who si­mul­ta­ne­ously backed Clin­ton and their Repub­li­can mem­ber of Con­gress — have on their minds.

“We want to un­der­stand what mat­ters to them and what it would take for them to vote for a Demo­crat,” said the com­mit­tee’s chief strate­gist, Katie Mer­rill. “The idea is to make sure who­ever [is] nom­i­nated on June 6, 2018, will have a level play­ing field when they come out of the pri­mary.”

As sure as the sun sets over the Sierra, Cal­i­for­nia will al­ways ex­port more money — both cam­paign cash and tax dol­lars — than it re­ceives. It will never en­joy the clout, es­pe­cially in pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, many here feel the most pop­u­lous and im­pact­ful state in the coun­try de­serves.

Tauscher, who rep­re­sented the East Bay sub­urbs for 12 years, is re­al­is­tic. She doesn’t want or ex­pect Cal­i­for­nia donors to pull back from na­tional pol­i­tics or slam their check­books shut when out-of-state can­di­dates come call­ing. “Give,” she said, “but also help out in these seven races.”

John Ste­wart, a Demo­cratic donor in San Fran­cisco, is one of her en­thu­si­as­tic ad­her­ents, kick­ing in $100,000 to get Tauscher’s op­er­a­tion up and run­ning.

Over the years he’s writ­ten $5,000 and $10,000 checks for can­di­dates in Mary­land, Hawaii and New Hamp­shire, among other states. “I’m happy to con­trib­ute,” he said, find­ing re­ward in the chance to help shape na­tional pol­i­tics from his home on Tele­graph Hill.

But seiz­ing con­trol of the House by fo­cus­ing on his own state? Price­less.

Gary Kazan­jian For The Times

REP. DAVID VAL­ADAO (R-Han­ford) rep­re­sents one of seven GOP-held House dis­tricts in Cal­i­for­nia be­ing tar­geted by Democrats. The party needs to pick up 24 seats to win con­trol of the House in 2018.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

PRES­I­DENT Obama ar­rives last year in L.A., where he was a fa­mil­iar sight on the fundrais­ing cir­cuit.

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