SACRAMENTO — With seven months to go until California voters cast their ballots, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis reported Tuesday that he has amassed a $30.5-million treasury--10 times more than his closest Republican rival.
Davis raised $5.8 million during the first six months of 2001 even as he and the state grappled with an extraordinary energy crisis, the most difficult conflict during his time in office. That meant that Davis maintained nearly a million-dollar-a-month pace.
The bulk of Davis' money came from wealthy backers. More than 200 donors contributed $10,000 or more to his campaign.
His Republican counterparts, meanwhile, fell far behind. Los Angeles businessman William Simon reported contributions of $3.3 million, much of it from his family fortune. Secretary of State Bill Jones, the GOP's sole statewide elected leader, managed to collect a paltry $960,000.
But the Republican numbers may be most notable for what they do not include. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has been openly exploring a possible candidacy for governor, but did not begin fund-raising until last week, so he filed no report Tuesday.
In addition to his enormous personal wealth--Riordan's exact fortune is not known, but many people close to him believe he could easily match Davis' treasury with his own money--Riordan is appealing to some of the GOP's wealthiest backers.
As a result, the efforts of Simon and Jones may suggest that some of the party's big donors are waiting to see what Riordan does before committing to a candidate.
The latest financial standings in the contest for governor appeared in campaign reports that each candidate had to file with the secretary of state detailing political contributions and expenditures for the first six months of the year.
Republicans quickly tried to turn Davis' fund-raising numbers to their advantage, complaining that the Democratic governor had ignored the affairs of state while he campaigned for dollars.
"The last six months have been crucial to solving the energy crisis," said Jeff Flint, a spokesman for Simon. "It appears Gray has continued to spend too much of his time on political fund-raising. Davis has a talent and it's fund-raising. Unfortunately, it's not governing the state."
Jones' campaign was even more biting.
"The real story of today's filing deadline is, once again, Gray Davis' insatiable appetite for campaign contributions," said Jones campaign manager Rob Lapsley. "When a fund-raising opportunity knocks, Gray opens the door and invites you in. By the time you leave, you are offered a list of fabulous prizes to choose from."
A confident and unapologetic Garry South, Davis' political advisor, shrugged off the criticism using the same response he often gives when Davis' fund-raising efforts are challenged.
The governor, South said, had to prepare for the possibility that he would be opposed by multimillionaires--as he was in the Democratic primary three years ago--who could dump millions of their own money into their campaigns. This time, he said, that specter has already been raised by Simon and Riordan, both wealthy businessmen.
"We've seen this movie before, and we're going to be prepared for whatever they throw at us, which I'm sure will be quite substantial," South said.
South added that Davis' numbers would have been even higher on Tuesday had the energy crisis not occupied so much of the governor's time in recent months. He said Davis canceled several out-of-town fund-raisers to stay home and cope with energy problems.
A Times investigation of Davis' fund-raising efforts, published Tuesday, showed that the governor has kept up a steady effort to solicit campaign contributions throughout his career, including recent months. In some cases, those contributions have created potential conflicts for Davis, as well as fueled the charges repeated by Republicans when the latest reports were filed--that Davis spends too much time raising money, rather than running the state.
But even with the overwhelming lead that Davis has in fund-raising , South said the governor would not slacken the pace in the remaining months before the election.
To outsiders who conduct research on campaign financing, the latest report from Davis represented what they fear could be the the beginning of a disturbing trend: year-round fund-raising by sitting government officials.
"He's setting all sorts of records," said Robert M. Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit research group. "Nobody has engaged in as much systematic fund-raising in the history of California."
Stern speculated that Davis might have eased the pace of his fund-raising if it hadn't been for the energy crisis and fears that it could spark a voter backlash.
"He's scared, but he's prepared," Stern said. "All the money in the world won't necessarily mean that he gets reelected, but money helps and goes a long way."