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Cash-Rich California Plays Dominant Role in Funding Presidential Candidates

Donations: High-tech companies join entertainment industry in pouring money into campaigns. Last year state gave record $17.8 million.


WASHINGTON — Flush with renewed economic confidence, increased wealth and a growing sense of political entitlement, individual Californians pumped a record $17.8 million into presidential campaign coffers last year, an analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows.

That sum, representing contributions of $200 to $1,000 donated in just 1999, more than doubled the total donations made by Californians in previous election cycles and once again made the state the nation's No. 1 source of campaign cash for presidential candidates.

The unrivaled participation of Californians in funding the presidential nomination process reflects not only the state's surging affluence and the increasing political involvement of its high-technology sector but also, some analysts suggested, a growing desire by some of the state's business and political leaders for influence on the national scene.

"You're beginning to feel that as California emerges as a technology center nationally--given the prominent role of Silicon Valley and [the] Digital Coast--there's tremendous energy," said Andy Spahn, a Dreamworks SKG executive who is a major fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. "There is tremendous optimism here and almost a return to the magic of the '60s and '70s, when Californians felt we led the nation."

California was not the only state that busted its previous record of contributions. Voters across the country contributed almost twice as much to presidential candidates in 1999, a whopping $135 million in itemized contributions, than they did in the entire 1995-96 election cycle.

'An ATM Machine for Presidential Politics'

But contribution records indicate that no matter which candidate moves into the White House next January, the new president will be indebted to California. At the end of last year, California donations accounted for 12% of the itemized contributions to Republican front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush. California contributions made up 13% of the war chest of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona; 15% of itemized contributions to Vice President Al Gore; and 18% of former Sen. Bill Bradley's coffers.

An earlier-than-ever state primary and the open contests of both major political parties also helped produce a record-breaking level of California contributions. In addition, fund-raising experts said, California's eye-popping high-tech wealth made the state an even stronger magnet for candidates in search of cash, leading them to spend more time trolling for dollars in the state.

"In the last few election cycles, California was basically an ATM machine for presidential politics," said Anthony Corrado, professor of government at Maine's Colby College.

"This time there's quite a bit of campaigning being done as well as fund-raising," he added. "The candidates are placing an enormous amount of emphasis on California because they're trying to tap into the money created by the technology boom."

It all adds up to a bigger role for California in financing the presidential campaigns and choosing the next president.

An analysis by the Virginia-based Campaign Study Group shows that California voters gave GOP presidential candidates about $9.7 million in itemized contributions last year, and Bush collected a whopping $7.1 million of that. McCain, whose campaign caught fire only after his convincing victory in the New Hampshire primary last month, had collected $1.1 million from Californians by the end of December.

Other Republican candidates--including Alan Keyes, who took in roughly $28,000--and some candidates who have dropped out in recent months collected an additional $1.6 million from the state's voters.

Among Democratic contenders, California donors gave Bradley a slight edge. He collected $4.3 million in itemized contributions last year while Gore received $3.7 million.

A geographic analysis of Californians' contributions reveals that certain areas of the state are friendlier to certain candidates and parties than others.

Different Areas Have Their Favorites

Gore scored big in Southern California, while his rival dominated the San Francisco Bay Area. The vice president raised more money last year in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills--$873,205 and $375,115 respectively--than any other candidate.

Bradley reaped the bulk of his California contributions from Silicon Valley and the northern part of the state. He raised $685,275 in San Francisco and $170,150 in Palo Alto; of the 10 ZIP Codes that were most generous to him, eight are in Northern California.

The vice president, despite his aggressive efforts in recent years to court Silicon Valley executives, raised only $343,825 in San Francisco and $74,550 in Palo Alto.

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