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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / U.S.
SENATE

Outspent Fong Seeks Donations From Asian Americans

April 15, 1998|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outspent and unable to respond to a barrage of television advertising by his wealthy opponent, state Treasurer Matt Fong has appealed to the Asian American community to help rescue his U.S. Senate campaign.

Asian American leaders are planning fund-raisers for Fong in Los Angeles, Diamond Bar, Beverly Hills, Northern California, Orange County, San Gabriel, San Diego and Las Vegas. And a Chinese-language newspaper has urged readers to send money to Fong's campaign to help Chinese Americans gain a foothold in American politics.

Fong strategists concede that they have not raised as much money as they would have liked, possibly because they have failed to "activate our base" in the Asian American community.

As a statewide officeholder, Fong was thought by some political insiders to have an advantage in the arduous task of raising the millions needed to run a statewide campaign.

But this has proved to be a difficult year for political fund-raising, with few burning issues to motivate people to make contributions. And Fong has been snared in the national controversy over political contributions from Asian sources.

In fund-raising records to be made public today, the Fong campaign will show only $765,000 in cash on hand, far from enough money to fight electronics entrepreneur Darrell Issa on anything approaching an even basis. The Fong campaign had raised $2.6 million but spent most of it on fund-raising efforts and other campaign expenses.

Fong's strategists say $500,000 has been raised in recent weeks since the closure of the reporting period--giving the campaign $1.2 million. They predict that contributors will flock to their aid when they realize that Issa is too inexperienced and too far to the right to beat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in a year when the electorate does not seem to be in an anti-incumbent mood.

Issa's records show about $3 million on hand in his campaign coffers--all but several hundred thousand donated by the candidate, an Issa spokesman said.

The businessman from Vista has already spent millions of his personal fortune on radio and television advertising in his effort to grab the Republican nomination and face Boxer.

"As soon as Matt can get on television, we're sure that he'll start surging," said former San Diego City Councilman Tom Hom, who, along with San Diego restaurant owner Tom Fat is hosting a fund-raiser that the campaign hopes will draw several hundred people, many or most of whom are expected to be non-Asian Americans.

Campaign strategists in several camps say that it costs $900,000 to $1 million to buy enough time on television to ensure that voters have seen and remembered a political advertisement.

Both the Los Angeles Times Poll and the Field Poll have shown Issa pulling ahead of Fong after his advertising barrage--and both candidates able to be beaten soundly by Boxer.

But both polls also show Fong to be the stronger candidate against Boxer, albeit by a narrow margin. The Times poll suggested that Issa is not getting the kind of rise in the polls that spending millions on advertising should have provided.

"Issa has put himself out on such an extreme [ideological] edge, he cannot beat Barbara Boxer," said a Fong strategist.

The Issa camp is quick to return the insult. A spokesman says that Fong is sinking fast and is providing little but "token opposition."

Whether or not the Fong strategists are right about Issa's durability as a candidate, the fact remains that the dominant factor, so far, is Issa's money, not ideological differences or state issues.

Issa's ability to freely spend millions chased two other Republicans, Rep. Frank Riggs of Windsor and San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, out of the primary and has Boxer, despite a strong showing in the polls, apparently running scared.

At a San Francisco fund-raising event Monday, Boxer gave the 800 people in the audience a lesson in the brutal mathematics of California politics. To reach her target of $20 million, Boxer said, she would have to raise $10,000 a day for every day of her six-year term in the Senate.

"It's absolutely ridiculous," Boxer said.

One contribution from an Asian source has made Fong part of the unfolding national controversy over Asian political influence.

In 1997, Fong returned $100,000 in contributions from controversial Indonesian businessman Ted Sioeng and his family after allegations were made that Sioeng is an agent of the Chinese government. Fong has hotly denied any wrongdoing in accepting the Sioeng contribution.

The World Journal, a Taiwanese-owned newspaper published in New York but with a national circulation, urged its readers not to be intimidated by the controversy.

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