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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : State's House Races on Way to Funding Record : Congress: At least 11 campaigns are expected to top $1 million and three will exceed $2 million. Reapportionment, anti-incumbent sentiment and a wave of retirements prompt high spending.

October 29, 1992|ALAN C. MILLER and DWIGHT MORRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Setting a record-breaking pace that is anything but recessionary, California Democratic and Republican congressional candidates have raised more than $37 million in 52 races, including at least 11 that will top $1 million and three that will exceed $2 million.

California Democrats hold a fund-raising edge in two-thirds of 12 hotly contested House races and an enormous advantage in five, according to a computer-assisted study by The Times of reports covering campaign activity through Oct. 15. Women's groups and union political action committees have contributed heavily to this advantage.

In three of these battles, veteran Democratic Reps. Vic Fazio of West Sacramento, George E. Brown Jr. of Colton and Richard H. Lehman of Sanger have raised more than twice as much as their challengers. Fazio, the fifth-ranking House Democratic leader, has raised $1.2 million--61% from labor, financial, agricultural and other PACs.

Even Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), who has refused to accept PAC contributions, has received significantly more money than his Republican challenger, Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), in a closely watched contest for a seat that includes part of the west San Fernando Valley, Malibu and most of Thousand Oaks.

At the same time, four pro-abortion rights Democratic women seeking open seats--Lynn Schenk in San Diego, Patricia Garamendi in Stockton, Anna Eshoo in the Bay Area and Jane Harman in the coastal South Bay and Westside--have raised considerably more than their Republican opponents. Buoyed by her own money, Harman, an attorney, is expected to spend more than $1 million.

"Those who support Democrats are enthused, and they feel their contributions will be meaningful," said Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles-based Republican consultant. "It comes from the sense, 'We're going to recapture the White House' and goes all the way down."

Incumbency, however, still transcends party lines when it comes to fund-raising clout. Three Republican incumbents who are considered vulnerable also hold advantages over their opponents, though none by as much as 2 to 1. Freshmen Reps. Frank Riggs of Windsor and John T. Doolittle of Rocklin and three-term Rep. Elton Gallegly of Simi Valley face serious opposition.

This picture reflects all funds raised by candidates in the two-year election cycle, including money raised in 1991 and during the spring primary campaigns. It is based on reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Despite fierce competition for funds from two costly U.S. Senate races in California as well as the presidential campaign, the Golden State is setting a pace for spending in House races that is without precedent nationwide, experts say.

Reapportionment, anti-incumbent sentiment and a wave of retirements have led to an unusual number of competitive, high-spending congressional races. The state gained seven seats following the 1990 census as a result of population increases, and eight lawmakers either retired or sought to move up to the U.S. Senate.

The figure of 11 or more million-dollar races 2 1/2 weeks before Tuesday's election nearly doubles California's total for 1990. Nationwide, there were only 15 such contests at this point in 1990.

At this time in 1990, no House race in California had exceeded $2 million. Fazio's race against former state Sen. H. L. Richardson has topped that mark. Harman's battle with Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores for the new 36th District seat is expected to do so as well. And Santa Barbara Republican Michael Huffington has invested more than $4 million in his record-breaking campaign.

"This certainly far exceeds anything we've seen in the past in the state of California and, I would expect, far exceeds any state ever in terms of million-dollar races," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Common Cause, the citizens' lobbying group that tracks campaign spending.

Incumbents enjoy a particular advantage with PACs, which raise and contribute money on behalf of corporate, labor, ideological and other interests. These groups, which generally have major legislative and regulatory stakes in government, tend to back candidates who are already in office or whose election appears likely.

The most consistent big contributors to Democratic campaigns are labor, environmental and women's PACs, including various organizations that support abortion rights. The Republican counterparts tend to be defense, energy and conservative PACs, including the National Rifle Assn. and the Lincoln clubs of Orange County and Northern California.

Among Democratic heavyweights, Fazio has raised $205,576 from unions, $148,189 from financial interests, and $132,510 from agricultural and food PACs for his 3rd District race in the Sacramento delta. He also has major support from health and medical, defense, and various pro-abortion rights, pro-Social Security, pro-gay rights and pro-Israel PACs.

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