Orange County's two newest congressmen are starting their terms in Washington heavily in debt, mostly from hard-fought primary campaigns in which they defeated large fields of candidates to capture the Republican nomination.
According to reports filed this week with the Federal Election Commission, C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) was left more than $300,000 in debt after defeating 14 other candidates in a free-for-all GOP primary in June and coasting to victory in November. Cox, 36, succeeds Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), who retired from his 40th Congressional District seat to start a private consulting firm.
Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita), 41, who takes over the western Orange County seat vacated by retiring Rep. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Long Beach), is nearly $74,000 in debt after defeating eight candidates in his GOP primary for the 42nd District, then going on to win in November.
Neither spent very much in their fall campaigns, contrasted with their heavily contested primary races. For both, winning the primary in their predominantly Republican districts all but assured that they would win the general election.
All told, Cox spent more than $1 million on his bid for Congress. Rohrabacher got off much cheaper, spending only $465,000.
Cox's biggest creditors are himself--he still is owed about $90,000 of the $120,000 he lent himself for the campaign--and several campaign consultants. The largest amount is $100,001 owed to Huckaby & Rodriguez Inc. of Sacramento, which ran Cox's successful primary campaign.
Cox said Thursday that he will focus on repaying the debt as soon as he has organized his Washington and district offices and gotten settled in his new job.
"I think that when I am able to spend the time necessary to attack the problem head-on we will be able to promptly repay the debt," Cox said. "It is much easier to raise funds as an incumbent member of Congress than as a challenger. We did spectacularly well last year when I was the gleam in somebody's eye. I would expect we'd do as well this year."
Richard T. Dykema, Rohrabacher's chief of staff, said the congressman plans to hold fund-raisers and contact various people and organizations who might be willing to help.
"We're fortunate. Our debt is not as large as Chris'," Dykema said. "But we definitely will have to work at it."
Rohrabacher's biggest single bill was the unpaid portion of a $24,971 loan to himself, of which he had repaid about half. He also owed his consultant for the primary campaign, Allan Hoffenblum of Los Angeles, $11,440.
Also filing reports were candidates for legislative races, including two in Orange County that featured fiercely competitive campaigns--one for the Assembly and one for the Senate.
Fund-raising in the 72nd Assembly District race between Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) and Riverside County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach totaled nearly $1.9 million, a record for an Orange County Assembly contest.
Pringle, who defeated Thierbach by fewer than 900 votes, raised $911,333, while Thierbach raised $980,599. Most of their money came from Republican and Democratic party sources.
In the race for the 33rd Senate District seat, the successful incumbent, Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk), raised $1.58 million, while his Republican opponent, former Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, collected just over $1 million. Green won that race by about 3,500 votes out of more than 205,000 votes cast.
Among legislators who were easily reelected in November, Assemblyman Gil Ferguson (R-Newport Beach) raised $339,834 and reported $29,465 on hand as of Dec. 31. Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) took in $359,971 and had $285,800 in the bank. Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) raised $313,987 and had just $1,373 left at the end of the year.
Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) collected $334,619 and had $51,810 on hand, even after contributing more than $100,000 to the California Republican Party.
Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights) reported raising $503,080 and had $33,135 left in one of his two campaign funds.
Campbell's other committee, organized for his unsuccessful 1986 campaign for state controller, still lists an official debt of $416,800. But more than half that amount-- $237,500--is owed to Campbell's Senate campaign committee and need not be repaid.
More troublesome to Campbell are debts of $25,000 to Technosearch Inc., a New York venture capital firm; $20,000 to Student Insurance Division of Los Angeles; $15,000 to Don Messick, who owns a San Juan Capistrano printing firm, and $24,600 to the Irvine Co., which has already forgiven $29,600 in principal and interest owed by Campbell's committee.
But under Proposition 73, Campbell is in a tough spot: The money he borrowed under the old rules must be repaid under the new law that limits contributions. Campbell will have to solicit a greater number of small contributions from a larger number of people.
Even if Campbell's private benefactors wanted to forgive the loans, they could only waive $1,000 worth of debt each fiscal year because forgiving a loan is considered the same as making a contribution.
"It's very frustrating," Campbell aide Jerome Haleva said. "Sen. Campbell believes he engendered these debts under the old rules and should be allowed to repay them under the old rules. It's going to be much more difficult to repay these now."
Times staff writer Dave Lesher contributed to this story.