Who’s writ­ing checks to Democrats in Cen­tral Val­ley House races? Bay Area lib­er­als

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY EMILY CADEI [email protected]­clatchydc.com Kate Irby of McClatchy’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Democrats’ un­prece­dented fundrais­ing in Cen­tral Val­ley House races this year is fu­eled in sig­nif­i­cant part by the sup­port of well­heeled donors in Sil­i­con Val­ley and San Fran­cisco. The cash in­flux has helped boost these Democrats’ vis­i­bil­ity and kept them com­pet­i­tive with the GOP in­cum­bents, who can at­tract big checks from po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees and other spe­cial in­ter­ests.

But it also has a down­side: open­ing them up to at­tacks from their Repub­li­can op­po­nents that they are aligned with Bay Area lib­er­als rather than their more con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts. That as­so­ci­a­tion can be dam­ag­ing for politi­cians in the Cen­tral Val­ley, where many res­i­dents are skep­ti­cal of their wealthy neigh­bors on the other side of the Coastal Range.

“Peo­ple are al­ways sus­pi­cious of money hav­ing an in­ter­est be­hind it,” said Pro­fes­sor Thad Kousser, chair of the po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego.

Demo­cratic chal­lengers Josh Harder, T.J. Cox, An­drew Janz and Jes­sica Morse have all raised more in item­ized dona­tions (dona­tions of $200 or more) from res­i­dents of San Fran­cisco, San Ma­teo and Santa Clara Coun­ties than they have from their own dis­tricts, in some cases, colos­sally more.

Harder, who is chal­leng­ing Repub­li­can Rep. Jeff Den­ham, raised roughly $860,000 from Sil­i­con Val­ley and San Fran­cisco, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of cam­paign fi­nance records. That’s more than 30 times as much as the $27,000 he raised from the Modestoare­a dis­trict. Cox, who is run­ning against Rep. David Val­adao of Han­ford, raised $111,000 from the Bay coun­ties, com­pared to $1,000 from dis­trict res­i­dents.

Repub­li­cans have taken no­tice. “If you want to be an elected of­fi­cial some­day, you’ll have to talk to lo­cal vot­ers, not just Bay Area donors,” the Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can party Tweeted at Harder last week.

Den­ham — who has raised more than $300,000 from the dis­trict — and his GOP al­lies con­sis­tently re­fer to Harder, a one­time Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, as “Bay Area Harder.”

Val­adao’s cam­paign has also talked up the fact that Cox has raised far more from the Bay Area than from the 21st dis­trict, which runs south and west of Fresno.

Democrats point out that Repub­li­cans are rais­ing sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of their over­all cam­paign funds from po­lit­i­cal ac­tions com­mit­tees, many of which are backed by cor­po­ra­tions.

“There is a clear dif­fer­ence be­tween Josh and Con­gress­man Den­ham — while Josh has pledged not to take a sin­gle dime from cor­po­rate PACs, al­most 70 per­cent of Con­gress­man Den­ham’s funds have come from cor­po­rate PACs and spe­cial in­ter­ests,” said Harder’s cam­paign di­rec­tor, Chelsea Brossard. Den­ham has raised $1.8 mil­lion from PACs for his elec­tion cam­paign. Val­adao has raised just over $300,000.

While Harder re­jects cor­po­rate PAC dona­tions, he has re­ceived siz­able amounts from em­ploy­ees of tech com­pa­nies like Google, Face­book and Uber. He ranked third among all House can­di­dates in fundrais­ing from the in­ter­net sec­tor, and sec­ond in dona­tions from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

The sim­ple re­al­ity for Democrats is that one of their best op­por­tu­ni­ties to counter Repub­li­can in­cum­bents’ fi­nan­cial edge comes from the Bay Area. Sil­i­con Val­ley, specif­i­cally, rep­re­sents some of the party’s most fer­tile fundrais­ing ground in the coun­try. The Cen­tral Val­ley most cer­tainly does not.

Poverty rates are much higher than av­er­age in the re­gion, par­tic­u­larly its south­ern por­tion, the San Joaquin Val­ley. Many of the wealthy donors in the area are in­volved in agri­cul­ture, which tends to be a Repub­li­can-lean­ing con­stituency. Lo­cal vot­ers “who sup­port Democrats are by and large work­ing men and women. Those folks just don’t have the money to make con­tri­bu­tions to po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates,” said Darry Sragow, pub­lisher of the Cal­i­for­nia Tar­get Book, which pro­vides non­par­ti­san cam­paign data anal­y­sis.

Sragow told The Sacra­mento Bee that Democrats run­ning for of­fice in the area “are al­ways hav­ing to deal with the po­lit­i­cal risk of rais­ing money out­side the dis­trict. But if they are un­will­ing to shoul­der that risk they’re just not go­ing to win.” In­deed, Democrats chal­leng­ing Den­ham, Val­adao and other Cen­tral Val­ley Repub­li­cans did not raise sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money from dis­trict res­i­dents in 2016 or 2014, ei­ther, data from the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics shows.

Cen­tral Val­ley Democrats aren’t the only ones rais­ing a small frac­tion of their con­tri­bu­tions from their home dis­tricts. Janz, a Fresno County pros­e­cu­tor, has raised just 12 per­cent of dona­tions of $200 or more from his dis­trict. But he’s still raised about $50,000 more than his op­po­nent, Repub­li­can Rep. Devin Nunes. Nunes, a na­tional po­lit­i­cal light­ning rod, has raised just 4 per­cent from the dis­trict, with half of his dona­tions of $200 or more com­ing from out­side the state.

Repub­li­can Rep. Tom McClin­tock is also rais­ing a smaller pro­por­tion of his item­ized dona­tions from his dis­trict than his Demo­cratic chal­lenger. McClin­tock has re­ceived just over $136,000 — or 19 per­cent — from 4th Dis­trict donors, which in­cludes parts of Fresno and Madera Coun­ties but also wealthy coun­ties like Placer and El Do­rado. That’s $100,000 less than Morse, the Demo­crat, who has raised more than 21 per­cent of all dona­tions of $200-plus from the dis­trict.

She’s raised even more — nearly 40 per­cent of her item­ized funds — from Sil­i­con Val­ley and San Fran­cisco.

The large sums of money flow­ing from the Bay Area to Morse’s cam­paign rep­re­sent a stark con­trast with McClin­tock’s last few op­po­nents, who raised al­most no money from out­side the dis­trict and were not able to mount cred­i­ble chal­lenges. And it’s part of a larger trend among Democrats across the coun­try, who are draw­ing huge sums from donors ea­ger to counter Pres­i­dent Trump. That’s part of the rea­son the gap be­tween lo­cal Democrats’ in-dis­trict and Bay Area fundrais­ing is par­tic­u­larly wide this cy­cle.

Since Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton lost the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, de­spite win­ning 2.86 mil­lion more votes, there’s been a con­certed ef­fort by lib­er­als “to re­dis­tribute those vot­ers and that pas­sion and that money” to win con­trol of the U.S. House, said Kousser.

Groups have sprung up like Swing Left, which matches ac­tivists in safe Demo­cratic dis­tricts with com­pet­i­tive House races nearby, help­ing them par­tic­i­pate in can­vass­ing, phone bank­ing and fundrais­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Swing Left Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Ethan To­dras-White­hill, a ma­jor chunk of the group’s mem­bers are based in Cal­i­for­nia — roughly 100,000 peo­ple, he es­ti­mated. And the group has helped raise more money for Harder’s cam­paign than any other in the coun­try. In fact, seven of the ten con­gres­sional con­tests at the top of Swing Left’s fundrais­ing “leader­board” are in Cal­i­for­nia. Cox’s race against Val­adao ranks fifth.

“There are so many peo­ple who are up­set about Trump and … are look­ing for ways to make an im­pact,” ex­plained To­dras-White­hill. Do­nat­ing to can­di­dates who could help Democrats win back a ma­jor­ity in the House is one way to do it.

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