Although the June 7 primary is still two months away, tens of thousands of dollars in special interest contributions have already begun flowing into legislative races in Ventura County.
In the race for a state Senate seat, Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria) has raised $89,735 since Jan. 1, more than both of the Republicans who hope to oppose him in November, according to recent finance reports.
Boosted by contributions of $23,000 from family members, Republican candidate Brooks Firestone far exceeded the fund-raising efforts of both Democrats vying for their party's nomination in the race for O'Connell's seat.
And Assemblyman Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard) raised $23,361 from various business interests, while his Democratic opponent, Dorothy Maron, has yet to begin raising money.
"I know I've got an uphill fight," Maron said. "But I'm going to fight. . . . If I have to, I'll put my inheritance in this."
In statewide races, state Sen. Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley), a candidate for lieutenant governor, raised $89,874 since the beginning of the year, and former Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who is running for state controller, collected $125,284.
By far, O'Connell, 42, was the most successful at raising political cash among local candidates. He is seeking the position being vacated by retiring state Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) in a district that covers Ventura, Santa Paula, Ojai and all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
The $89,735 O'Connell raised in the past three months lifted the total amount of contributions to $316,821. Contributions of $1,000 or more came from, among others, the American Insurance Assn., Amgen Inc., Blue Cross of California, the California Bankers Assn. and the Trial Lawyers PAC.
Republican candidate Steve MacElvaine, a 49-year-old cattle rancher and former San Luis Obispo County supervisor, raised more than twice the amount raised by GOP challenger Steve Decker, 50, a Santa Barbara real estate investor.
MacElvaine reported $38,316 in contributions, including a $15,000 personal loan and $2,000 from the Lincoln Club of Santa Barbara. Decker raised $19,249, throwing $8,750 of his own money into the race.
Among the three candidates vying to replace O'Connell in the 35th Assembly District, Firestone significantly outpaced Democratic opponents Bob Ream, 27, and Mindy Lorenz, 47.
Firestone's parents gave a second contribution of $20,000, pushing the Republican's total campaign contributions to $95,850. Unlike federal candidates, state candidates have no limit on the size of contributions they can receive. Entertainer Bob Hope also contributed $1,000 to Firestone's campaign.
"We're very happy," said Brandon Edwards, a Firestone aide. "But we know we have to do better because the winner of the Democratic primary will be able to tap into money from the Democratic caucus."
Asked if the candidate's father, Leonard Firestone, plans to make any further contributions, Edwards said simply that "he wants to see Brooks do well and he wants to help him. He's very proud of him."
Edwards said former President Gerald Ford will participate in a Firestone fund-raiser in Santa Ynez on April 14.
On the Democratic side, Ream reported $32,065 in contributions, including two $5,000 contributions each from his mother Melva and the Gold Coast District Council of Carpenters PAC.
In comparison, Lorenz raised $23,083. But she said she is undeterred. "We're exactly where we want to be," she said. "We're just beginning to hit our stride."
Meanwhile, Takasugi's contributions of $23,361 raised the total amount in his campaign war chest to $59,333. He received contributions of $1,000 or more from the California Restaurant Assn., the California Bankers Assn. and the California Teachers Assn.
Takasugi. 71, is seeking reelection in the 37th Assembly District, which extends from Oxnard to Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.
Although Maron has yet to raise any money, Takasugi spokesman Tab Berg said the assemblyman will not try to coast to reelection.
"He's never taken anyone lightly," Berg said. "That's why he is successful."
Saying she plans to run a strictly grass-roots campaign, Maron accused Takasugi of being beholden to big business because of the large amounts of PAC money he has received.
But Berg refuted this, saying, "A lot of organizations have given money because Nao has demonstrated that he is committed to restoring business and the economy in California."
Campaign finance statements were not immediately available for Assemblywoman Paula L. Boland (R-Granada Hills). Her 38th Assembly District covers Simi Valley, Fillmore and portions of the western San Fernando Valley.
Neither of her two Democratic challengers--Simi Valley attorney Donald Allan Cocquyt, 37, and UCLA student Josh Arce, 18--raised the minimum $1,000 required to file a finance report.