SACRAMENTO — In winning his Assembly seat in November, Willard H. Murray Jr. (D-Paramount) raised $118,000 more than former Assemblyman Paul Zeltner (R-Lakewood), according to final campaign reports for the 1988 election.
Typically, incumbent lawmakers attract more contributions than challengers, but Murray, a former congressional aide and longtime political activist, parlayed his Democratic Party ties into an unusually formidable fund-raising operation.
In statements filed last week with California's secretary of state, Murray's campaign reported raising $636,000 in cash and other services; Zeltner's raised $518,000. Murray received about 3,300 more votes than Zeltner.
In southeast Los Angeles County's hard-fought state Senate election, incumbent Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) reported raising more than $1.5 million in contributions; his Republican challenger, Don Knabe of Cerritos, reported $1 million.
Spending totals for Green and Knabe also reached about $2.5 million, which ranks the race among the state's most expensive but short of the record for a legislative contest, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The record of more than $2.9 million was set in the 1982 campaign between Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and Republican Bill Hawkins, according to the commission. In a 1987 special election, Green and his Republican opponent, then-Assemblyman Wayne Grisham (R-Norwalk), fell just shy of the record.
Campaign statements for the third major race in the Southeast area--in which Democrat Robert D. Epple of Norwalk narrowly beat Grisham--were not available.
Allan Hoffenblum, Zeltner's campaign consultant, said he was not surprised that his candidate was outspent.
Hoffenblum said Murray's longtime ties to the Berman & D'Agostino campaign consulting firm and other Democrats helped him to attract contributions. The Los Angeles firm, which received $50,000 from Murray for consulting, is headed by Michael Berman and Carl D'Agostino. The firm is closely associated with the Democratic political organization of Berman's brother, Rep. Howard L. Berman of Panorama City, and Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles.
Hoffenblum maintained that Zeltner could have raised and spent more money "but he just had a strong feeling that he didn't want to flood the mailboxes with mail, and he was quite concerned about sending out too much negative mail."
Flood of Mailers
In 1986, Zeltner managed an upset victory even though he spent just $170,000, to $820,000 for his Democratic opponent.
In analyzing Murray's victory, Hoffenblum said Murray "just flooded the district at the end of the campaign" with mail.
"The overwhelming majority of it was in the last 10 days" of the campaign, he said. The district includes Bellflower, Compton, Lakewood, Paramount and parts of Willowbrook and Long Beach.
In one piece of Democratic mail, a letter carrying Sen. Alan Cranston's signature accused Zeltner of voting for a credit card interest rate bill that Zeltner said he had not voted for. Shortly before the election, Cranston's chief of staff, Roy Greenaway, said that while Cranston endorsed Murray, the senator did not authorize the letter and, in fact, disapproved of it when contacted by Murray's campaign.
In an interview last week, Murray said that as far as he knows, Cranston authorized the letter.
Faced Stiff Challenge
Murray also said he raised more money than Zeltner because he faced a stiff challenge in the Democratic primary, while Zeltner had no opposition in the GOP primary. "I had a primary opponent, and the amount in the final report reflects both campaigns," Murray said, adding that he spent $250,000 in the June primary.
In Murray's view, his campaign in the general election "was relatively modest," compared with others.
He said the escalating cost of campaigns does not disturb him: "It's a fact of life. It's the case all over the country."
Murray acknowledged that his political ties enabled him to raise enough money to win the election: "Yes, the fact that I have been in politics for 25 years was helpful."
Murray's campaign reported receiving in-kind donations worth more than $56,000 from the state Democratic Central Committee for postage, mailings, printing and other services.
He also reported receiving nearly $18,000 from Assembly Democrats, the political action committee of the Assembly's 46 Democratic members, for in-kind services. Among his other contributors were the Teamsters political action committee, $4,000; Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), $4,000, and Rep. Richard H. Lehman (D-Sanger), $10,000.
Zeltner was heavily supported by Republican elected officials, including Assemblyman William P. Baker (R-Danville), $35,000, and Assemblyman Dennis Brown (R-Los Alamitos), $25,000. In addition, he received $3,000 from Chevron Corp.