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LOCAL ELECTIONS / BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

Funds Flow for Knabe, Trickle In for Swanson

Deane Dana's chief of staff is helped out by his boss. His opponent must loan herself money.

October 13, 1996|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retiring Supervisor Deane Dana is by far the largest contributor to the campaign of his longtime chief of staff, Don Knabe, in the race for the only open seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Even as Knabe tries to distance himself from his boss in the intense and personal contest with Gordana Swanson, Dana's campaign committee has spent more than $152,000 on Knabe's behalf.

An analysis of campaign contribution reports since the race began nearly two years ago shows that Knabe has raised $2.2 million, more than five times the amount Swanson has received.

Special interests with a financial stake in decisions of the supervisors, including county labor unions, developers, lobbyists, dump operators, oil companies, utilities, ambulance firms and Metro Rail contractors are heavily bankrolling Knabe's campaign.

Unable to tap most of those sources of funds, Swanson has raised less than $400,000 for her campaign. She and her husband are the biggest contributors, having loaned $168,000 to bolster her effort to win one of the most powerful political posts in the state.

Swanson's top contributor is rock musician Don Henley, who has given $21,000, which places him in a class by himself in the ranks of her supporters.

In her campaign appearances, Swanson hammers away at Knabe's chief backer, Supervisor Dana. She has forced the supervisor's chief deputy to draw the distinction that they are not one and the same.

"I am a totally different person," Knabe says. "Deane Dana is Deane Dana and Don Knabe is Don Knabe."

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Knabe has tried to downplay his connections to Dana, who hand-picked Knabe as his successor when he announced his retirement.

In an expensive new mailer that sketches his plan for the county's future, Knabe makes no mention of his 14-year tenure as Dana's right-hand man or his role as a veteran insider in the supervisor's suite atop the county Hall of Administration.

Swanson, the former mayor of Rolling Hills and onetime president of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, is drawing her financial support from women's groups, environmentalists, friends and business associates on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, home builders, and unions representing MTA workers. The supervisors automatically serve on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

As the campaign entered its final weeks, Knabe had 11 times more in his campaign treasury than Swanson. His latest campaign report filed last week showed that Knabe had $366,092 on hand Sept. 30, compared to $33,529 for Swanson.

That gives him a distinct advantage in reaching voters through targeted mailers, freeway billboards and signs that build name identification.

Both candidates in the nonpartisan race are Republicans.

Their battleground is the 4th Supervisorial District, which cuts a broad swath from Marina del Rey through the South Bay across the Palos Verdes Peninsula and Long Beach before turning inland to embrace the southeast area as far as Diamond Bar.

Knabe has received more from Dana than from anyone else.

The supervisor spent nearly $80,000 of his remaining campaign funds on slate mailers for Knabe during the primary. He sent Knabe a $40,000 check March 26, the day of the primary election, and made a $10,000 donation in Knabe's name to the Camp Baywatch Foundation, a charity associated with the widely viewed "Baywatch" television show about the lives of county lifeguards.

When Dana announced in November 1994 that he would not seek reelection, he endorsed Knabe's candidacy, saying the election of his chief of staff would "assure continuity" in the district. In addition to serving as his closest aide, Knabe was Dana's campaign manager in the 1992 general election after Swanson forced the supervisor into an expensive runoff.

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Dana's contributions on Knabe's behalf resemble the pattern seen in 1980 when then-Supervisor Pete Schabarum pumped more than $100,000 into the come-from-behind campaigns of Dana and Mike Antonovich.

Knabe said he is pleased to have the financial backing of his boss. "Deane Dana has endorsed me and put his money where his mouth is," Knabe said.

As Swanson mounts her insurgent campaign against Knabe, she has repeatedly attacked Dana's record in her criticism of the county as "a grossly mismanaged government." Swanson regularly accuses Knabe of "being the power behind the throne."

In a cable television program taped for broadcast in Long Beach and surrounding areas, Knabe said Swanson would like the race "to be a campaign between her and Supervisor Deane Dana."

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But he said later that the race is "between me and her" and should be decided on the basis of experience and vision for the future. "The people want to know who Don Knabe is."

Asked why he doesn't mention Dana or his job in his mailer, Knabe said he thinks most voters already know of his association with the supervisor.

"How do you separate yourself from Deane Dana?" he asked rhetorically.

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