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California and the West

State GOP Urges Larger War Chest

Politics: California leaders plead with national officials to provide more money for pivotal campaigns, including race for governor and U.S. Senate.

June 26, 1998|PETER M. WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

California Republican leaders, gearing up for high-stakes battles in key state and federal races, are quietly pressing their national party to abandon a plan to take a bigger chunk of campaign money raised in the state.

State GOP leaders want more money spent on critical California races, including fights for the open governor's seat and the U.S. Senate post held by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

The governor's race is critical for a number of reasons, including the fact that the winner will help determine how state legislative and congressional districts are redrawn after the 2000 census.

State GOP officials, including gubernatorial nominee Dan Lungren, went to Washington this week to plead their case for more money, bringing a letter signed by Gov. Pete Wilson and all eight GOP nominees for statewide office.

They asked the Republican National Committee to split revenue raised in California by giving the national party 60% and returning 40% to the state. Recently, the state GOP letter says, the national committee said it would keep 75% "over the objections of the California Republican Party."

Party leaders were reluctant to discuss the letter or the meeting in detail, and some characterized the dispute as the normal tug of war that comes up in every election cycle.

But the letter warns that any reduction in support for California "during this absolutely critical political campaign will have a very negative impact on our races."

Influencing this week's negotiations is the possibility that California GOP leaders would encourage their donors to withhold money for national races and not donate to the national party, said two sources who had seen the letter.

"If California, in general, and Lungren, in particular, are your most important priorities, maybe the money you raise in California should be spent in California," said one of the two sources.

Some party leaders wanted to argue that even the 60-40 split is inadequate, several sources said.

"There is always going to be a battle and there will be some people who will say, 'Why split at all with Washington while we have the governor's race and reapportionment at stake,' " said a GOP political consultant familiar with the issue.

Californians raised $24 million for the Republican National Committee and its affiliates two years ago, but got back about $11 million--a little less than half the total--according to the letter. Democrats raised and received in return a similar amount for the 1996 election, according to federal election records.

For the GOP, Matt Fong's race for the U.S. Senate is most worrisome. His campaign spent nearly all its money in a rigorous primary.

The fear among some California leaders is that the national party could be wary of the high cost of winning the Senate seat--perhaps as much as $20 million. The seat is just one of 34 up for election this year, and the national GOP could decide that it costs far less to win seats elsewhere.

Lungren's finance chairman, Gary Hunt, minimized the importance of the letter sent to national party Chairman Jim Nicholson. He called the session he attended Tuesday with Nicholson the "normal discussions that go on between any state and national party apparatus as to how they allocate resources."

"I feel very optimistic about the outcome and expect the national party will play a major role in the elections of Dan Lungren and Matt Fong, as well as the down-ticket races," he said.

A spokesman for Nicholson declined to discuss the letter, but noted that the national party regards "California as a singular priority . . . a top priority."

National party spokesman Michael Collins said no decision has been made, although he promised that the national party would spend more in California than it did in 1994.

Collins pointed out that California donors benefit when their money is spent to win congressional seats in other states because all GOP donors want "to win a Republican majority in the House."

Behind the talks is the history of California being abandoned in 1992 by the presidential campaign of George Bush, who wrote off California particularly early in the fall campaign. Many attribute legislative losses that year to his pulling up stakes.

"When all that California money went back to Washington and the Bushees ceded the state, California didn't get its fair share," said an aide to one of this year's GOP nominees.

The result was that then-GOP state Chairman John Herrington negotiated a deal in 1995 with the national party ensuring that 40% of the money would be spent in the state.

In addition to the money problem, state Republican leaders also are concerned that donations from the three major national Republican groups--the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee--often come with strings attached or are spent by people unfamiliar with the local landscape.

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