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

Fong Taps Connections for Funding

GOP candidate draws heavily on fellow Asian Americans and help from a Southland chief executive.

October 22, 1998|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — If state Treasurer Matt Fong topples U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in November's election, he can thank in part the generosity of fellow Asian Americans and the persistent fund-raising of William P. Foley II.

Foley, the energetic chief executive of two major Southern California corporations, is Fong's top rainmaker. He pulled in more than $180,000 for the Republican hopeful, mostly from his employees at Fidelity National Title and the Carl's Jr. fast-food chain. Even his children, ages 12 to 22, wrote $1,000 checks to Fong.

Asian Americans, ranging from corporate executives to grocery store owners, provided more than $1.4 million to Fong's campaign, according to an analysis performed for The Times by the Virginia-based Campaign Study Group. That amounts to nearly a quarter of the money Fong collected from individuals through Oct. 15.

Fong's campaign also has been fueled by hundreds of thousands of dollars from the real estate and development industry, banks, lawyers and securities dealers. Fong also attracted campaign contributions from political action groups representing the tobacco, oil and restaurant industries.

As with previous state treasurers, Fong received several hundred thousand dollars in contributions from employees of companies that do business with his office, among them attorneys, accountants and finance experts.

Federal election records show that Fong had collected $7.8 million through mid-October.

Ultimately, his biggest contributor could be the Republican Party, which by law can contribute $3 million to his senatorial campaign. So far, the party has given a fraction of that, prompting concerns among some California GOP leaders.

Boxer, by contrast, has received $2.5 million from the national Democratic Party, helping balloon her total to about $13 million.

With strict federal limits on campaign contributions, people who can round up donations are vitally important in a high-stakes Senate race. And perhaps no one has more zealously pursued contributions for Fong than Foley, his friend and campaign chairman.

"Bill Foley's job was to set the high-water mark," Fong said. "It has given us a chance to win."

Calling In All Favors

Foley, 53, has tapped employees, business acquaintances, golfing buddies, neighbors. Foley has ties to three of the top five firms whose employees have given to Fong, including Orange County's Stradling Yocca & Carlson, which does legal work for Foley's two corporations. He also has helped host Fong fund-raisers in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Orange County.

All but three of the two dozen directors and top executives at Foley's companies have given Fong's campaign at least $1,000. More than 60 Fidelity employees have contributed a total exceeding $114,000 to Fong, far more than any other company.

"I felt the best thing I could do for Matt was give him exposure to senior management, and hopefully they would contribute," Foley said.

While several employees say they gave willingly to Fong, one former Fidelity manager said he was pressured into contributing $500.

Harry Langston, Fidelity's former Phoenix manager, said his immediate supervisor told him he had to give to the Republican candidate at a fund-raiser in May at Foley's Indian Wells weekend home.

"I said, 'Who's Matt Fong?' I had never heard of him," said Langston. "He said, 'Harry, are you listening to me? You will bring your checkbook and write a check.' "

"It was like an order. I was never asked. I was told," said Langston, who said he was fired several weeks later without being given a reason.

Under federal election law, it is illegal for an employer to force a worker to give to a candidate.

Langston's former boss, Darryl Tyson, declined comment. Andrew Puzder, Fidelity's executive vice president, said the firm considers Langston "a disgruntled former employee who we believe is not accurately relating the facts."

He said he could not discuss Langston's termination except to say that he was given written warnings and was informed of the cause.

Foley, meanwhile, said he is careful not to pressure his employees into giving, but recognizes that could be the unintended effect. Prompted by Langston's complaints, Foley recently dispatched a memo telling Fidelity donors they could get their money back from Fong, no questions asked, if they felt uncomfortable.

Langston wasn't the only out-of-state Fidelity manager who gave to Fong. Charles Wimer, the firm's New York statewide manager, said he contributed $500 both out of "respect for Bill Foley" and because "Matt Fong is a good man."

Foley's four children have donated $1,000 each to Fong, whom they met at their family home. Foley said the children, who listed their occupations as students, decided on their own to make the contributions and used their personal bank accounts.

While a U.S. senator can help shape federal issues affecting the title insurance and restaurant industries, Foley said his push for Fong has nothing to do with his own businesses.

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