Exploiting California's economic and political might, Gov. Gray Davis has turned his reelection effort into a nationwide campaign, raising millions of dollars from out-of-state corporations and Democrats with a stake in Sacramento.
CitiGroup Inc., which has concerns ranging from insurance regulation to privacy rights, has given Davis at least $250,000, making the Manhattan-based financial firm, its executives and subsidiaries among his biggest backers. Verizon, the New York telecommunications giant, has also donated more than $200,000.
Bernard Rapoport, a retired Waco, Texas, insurance executive and major Democratic Party donor, has contributed $16,300 and tapped fellow Texans for thousands more--part of an effort to keep the governorship of the nation's biggest state in Democratic hands.
"I've raised money for Gray Davis from people he's never met," Rapoport said. "Some [givers] don't even know who the governor of California is."
The bottom line: Davis has collected $7.6 million from outside the state so far, or roughly 20% of the $39.5 million in contributions the governor reported raising through mid-December.
"That's one of the differences between the governor of California and the governor of Wyoming," said Garry South, the chief architect of Davis' reelection strategy. "Nearly everyone is vested in California in some fashion or another."
Davis has used the state's pull to much greater advantage than his predecessor, Republican Pete Wilson.
In three years, Davis has gathered more out-of-state money than Wilson raised in eight years. Wilson--one of the premiere fund-raisers of his time--collected roughly $6.3 million elsewhere, or about 14% of the $46 million he took in during his two terms in Sacramento.
High Goals, Few Restrictions
Davis has set a fund-raising goal of $50 million for his first term alone; during one fortnight in December he was taking in more than $159,000 a day. Unlike federal candidates who operate under certain campaign finance restrictions, candidates for statewide office can accept unlimited sums.
While Davis has been been far more aggressive than Wilson in scouring the country for contributions, he has also benefited from unique political circumstances. Of the nine most populous states in the nation, only one--California--has a Democratic governor. That lessens Davis' competition in the party's fund-raising circles.
Moreover, California is crucial to any Democrat seeking to win the White House in 2004. Even if Davis' presidential prospects have dimmed as a result of the electricity crisis, that makes his reelection a priority for Democrats nationwide.
"Raising money for governors has taken on a whole new importance after what happened in Florida," said David Rosen, a Democratic fund-raiser in Chicago. He noted that Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida marshaled key support for his brother George W. Bush's presidential campaign and the extended battle to declare a victor in the deadlocked state.
"People understand what it means to be the governor of a state and how it can impact a presidential election in terms of [political] infrastructure, get out the vote and the communications process up and down a state," Rosen said.
At the same time, Davis benefits from California's trend-setting reputation, which makes the state something of a proving ground for policy--and an attractive place to try to sway the national political debate.
Davis is seen around Sacramento as a cautious incrementalist who shies away from sweeping policy prescriptions. But outside California, the view is somewhat different.
Take health care, for instance. Democrats, touting their domestic agenda, cite the so-called "patients' bill of rights" Davis signed into law in 1999 and his support for expanding programs for children to cover the health needs of their parents.
The plan is on hold in California because the Bush administration has not agreed to help pay for the expansion. But backers in other states point to Davis' support and prod their lawmakers to follow his lead.
"As California goes, so goes the nation," said Dennis Rivera, head of the Service Employees International Union in New York, which has raised more than $200,000 for Davis. The union has persuaded allies to give to Davis as well; the Greater New York Hospital Assn., for one, donated $50,000.
"He can do absolutely nothing for us," Rivera said. "But he can set an example."
Although aides describe Davis as a reluctant and nervous flier, the governor averaged one out-of-state trip a month in 2001, routinely mixing official business with personal fund-raising.
In December, for instance, he traveled to Washington, D.C., for roughly 24 hours. He met with Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge at the White House and urged the federal government to help pay the state's added security costs since Sept. 11. He also attended a union-hosted fund-raiser, collecting $421,602.