Backed by his wealthy father and a list of national GOP political figures, prosecutor Ron Bamieh has taken a commanding fund-raising lead in the race for Ventura County district attorney.
Campaign finance reports show the 35-year-old political neophyte has amassed $313,500 since the start of his campaign, outpacing opponent Greg Totten by nearly 2 to 1.
Bamieh's father, a San Mateo businessman and major GOP contributor, has donated $239,000. Bamieh has also received money from a Texas oil tycoon, a former presidential candidate, two former ambassadors and the national security advisor for former President George Bush.
In contrast, Totten--the favored candidate of retiring Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury--has raised $178,100, mostly through small donations from local attorneys, ranchers, educators and business leaders.
Totten, 47, the chief assistant district attorney, has picked up a few deep-pocket donors, including billionaire David Murdock, religious radio broadcast mogul Edward Atsinger III and retired Thousand Oaks car dealer Robert Nesen. They each gave $5,000.
Totten and Bamieh are vying to fill the seat occupied by Bradbury, who will step down in January 2003 after six consecutive terms.
Their race is already shaping up as an unprecedented money war that is expected to yield an onslaught of mailers, TV ads and radio spots as both candidates sprint toward the March 5 primary.
"In the next seven to eight weeks, we are going to be bombarded by those things," said attorney George Eskin, the former assistant district attorney of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. "You're not going to be able to turn on the television set without seeing a Bamieh commercial."
In fact, Bamieh has already spent more than his campaign has taken in, including shelling out at least $64,000 in television advertising and about $48,000 in radio ads.
He has also spent more than $26,000 to hire one of the nation's top campaign strategists.
Arthur J. Finkelstein--known for his style of slamming opponents with negative ads--has helped elect such conservative GOP politicians as Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and former Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York.
The New York-based consultant also helped Benjamin Netanyahu win election as Israel's prime minister.
So why is Finkelstein signed on to a district attorney race in a suburban California county?
"It's called making a phone call," Bamieh said. "I knew him when I was working in Washington, D. C."
Bamieh worked on the campaign for former President George Bush and was appointed to the Justice Department after graduating from law school in 1991.
It was there, he said, that he met top Republicans who have contributed to his campaign. They include Robert Mosbacher, a Houston oil tycoon who was secretary of commerce under former President Bush. He gave Bamieh $500.
Glen Holden, the former U. S. ambassador to Jamaica, contributed $1,000. Howard Wilkins, a major GOP contributor from Kansas and former ambassador to the Netherlands, also contributed $1,000.
Brent Scowcroft, a Washington, D. C., consultant who served as the national security advisor to former Presidents Ford and Bush, gave Bamieh $250. And onetime Republican presidential candidate, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, contributed $500.
"I used to work for the Bush administration and I was privileged and honored to get to meet those people," Bamieh said. "And when I decided to run, I wrote them letters and asked them to help me out."
Bamieh's campaign contribution statements indicate he has received small donations from a few local attorneys and retirees since the fund-raising race began three months ago.
But his war chest has largely been bankrolled by his father.
And that has drawn sharp criticism by his opponent, who called Bamieh's big-spending campaign a "slick effort to buy an election with out-of-county money."
"We are getting calls on almost a daily basis from people I don't know who are volunteering in my campaign because they are offended by what they see," Totten said. "It is very troubling why somebody would want this office so badly that they are willing to go to that level."
Totten said he has "well over 300 supporters to date who are stakeholders in this community."
Campaign finance reports show Totten has received $5,000 from rancher Robert Pinkerton, as well as smaller donations from several local farmers.
Thousand Oaks Mayor Ed Masry, the trial lawyer who gained fame after he was portrayed in the movie "Erin Brockovich", contributed $10,000.
Bradbury donated $750. Simi Valley Police Chief Randy Adams and supervisors Kathy Long and Frank Schillo each donated $100.
And Totten received $1,000 from developers Newhall Land & Farming Co. and $1,000 from Community Memorial Hospital Executive Director Michael Bakst.
Bamieh deflected the attacks on his campaign by criticizing Totten for taking numerous donations from people who could seek favors from the district attorney's office.
"I would say that there is one candidate in this race who is independent," Bamieh said.
Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University, called the donations to both candidates enormous and suggested the coffers will continue to grow as the election nears.
"Yowee! That is a lot of money to spend in this county," Gooch said. "This looks like it is well on its way to becoming a million-dollar race."