SANTA ANA — Some of the most interesting people are identified on campaign contribution reports under the modest heading of "housewife."
They are the wives of developers, architects and executives of all stripes. There's the woman whose occupation is listed as housewife but whose address is: "The Penthouse, The Fairmont, San Francisco."
There are times when contributions by the spouses of local leaders have caused controversy: The wives of the Baldwin brothers, owners of the Baldwin Co. development firm, contributed $1,000 each to Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder's 1988 congressional campaign. Wieder accepted the money, not knowing that it would be added to their husband's totals by election officials.
To this day, Wieder is still forced to abstain from matters involving the Baldwin Co. under the county law that prevents supervisors from voting on matters affecting their major contributors.
And then there's the "homemaker" who once owned more of Orange County than any other human being: millionaire Joan Irvine Smith, heir to the Irvine family fortune. Smith's occupation has been listed on campaign forms as many different things during the past 14 years--sometimes she's described as an investor, other times as a consultant or a stockholder. But she also shows up as a "homemaker," and she has been good for more than $14,000 in contributions to board candidates over the years, almost as much as Disneyland and its officers have given.
Not that "housewives" or "homemakers" corner the market on hard-to-peg campaign contributions. There are "ranchers" who have built some of Orange County's most prosperous communities and at least one "unemployed" worker who has run for county supervisor.
Campaign-reporting laws require candidates who receive contributions to identify the person who gave the money by occupation and employer as well as name and address. So the labels--be they "housewife," "rancher" or anything else--are most often chosen by the candidates' campaign staff. The contributor is usually asked to provide that information.
Unlike the relatively rare "rancher," however, hundreds of "housewives" have donated thousands of dollars to candidates for the board, quietly becoming a marginal but significant force in political campaigns during the past 14 years.
In particular, they've come to the aid of the candidate whom they overwhelmingly favor: Wieder, the only woman ever elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
All told, Orange County "housewives," not counting Joan Irvine Smith or any other contributor whose husband's income or family inheritance put her in a different category, have donated $46,366 to candidates for supervisor since 1977. That's not much in the overall picture: It comes to about 0.5% of all contributions.
But housewives have targeted their money, contributing nearly half of it to Wieder. She has raised more than $20,000 from housewives, and even though that's hardly enough to run a supervisorial campaign these days, it's more than most challengers ever succeed in raising.
And Wieder's ability to draw upon that money is both a testimony to her continuing popularity among women as well as a valuable tool in her political fund-raising.
"More and more, as the years go by, women are finally realizing that they've got to put their money where their mouths are," Wieder said. "I was really the new kid on the block when I first ran for supervisor, but I've said that I was a good investment. I think that was true then, and it is now."