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Political Gold Medal: Davis Tops $50 Million

Politics: The record for fund-raising in a U.S. gubernatorial race is eclipsed with months to go. Simon trails badly in the money race.

July 17, 2002|JEFFREY L. RABIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis has now raised more than $50 million for his bid to capture a second term as chief executive of the nation's most populous state, an amount greater than any other candidate for governor in American history.

The Davis campaign's decision to release his semiannual campaign finance report Tuesday--more than two weeks before the filing deadline--increased the pressure on Republican rival Bill Simon Jr., whose fund-raising has lagged far behind that of the Democratic incumbent.

Davis' prodigious fund-raising left his campaign with $31.6 million in the bank at the end of June. The latest report shows Davis collected $13.9 million during the first six months of this year.

His campaign spent $18.7 million in the same period, much of it on television ads that lashed former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and helped propel Simon to victory in the hard-fought Republican primary last March. Once Simon captured the GOP nomination, Davis sought to define Simon in a new barrage of negative TV ads.

Under California law there are no limits to what an individual, a business or a labor union can contribute to a candidate for governor. As a consequence, it is not unusual for Davis to collect checks of $50,000 or more. With no limits, Davis has been able to shatter all records for candidates for governor nationwide, easily eclipsing President Bush when he was governor of Texas and New York Gov. George Pataki.

In his 1998 campaign, Bush raised about $25 million, while Pataki raised slightly less the same year.

The record Davis broke was his own, according to Ed Bender, research director of the Montana-based National Institute on Money and State Politics: He raised $35 million in his first campaign for governor four years ago. He began building up the $50 million when he took office in January 1999.

The governor's historic fund-raising pace has given him the financial wherewithal to buy vast amounts of television advertising, but it has also raised questions about the propriety of collecting large sums from individuals and companies with business before state government.

Without any additional income, Davis now has enough money to buy $1.5 million of television time every week until the November election--an amount necessary to influence busy voters--and still have money left over.

Simon's campaign coffers are not in the same robust condition. Campaign consultant Sal Russo would not say exactly how much the GOP contender had on hand at the end of June, although another source indicated it was about $5 million. Nor would he discuss how much the candidate has raised, other than to say Simon is ahead of the fund-raising pace set four years ago when Republican Dan Lungren ran for governor. The former attorney general lost in a landslide to Davis.

By another measure--a Times analysis of reports of large contributions, which must be independently reported by the campaigns--Davis has outraised Simon since the two rivals filed campaign finance statements in mid-February.

Although he expects to be outspent by Davis, Russo expressed confidence that Simon will have the money necessary to get his message out to California voters.

The Simon campaign received its biggest financial boost in April when President Bush hosted fund-raising events for the Republican candidate in Los Angeles and the Bay Area that raised almost $5 million.

Bush is planning to headline three more fund-raising events for Simon before Labor Day, Russo said. Vice President Dick Cheney will also host an event.

Russo acknowledged that Davis has raised money quite successfully. But he said Davis at the same time has ignored problems facing the state. The Simon campaign repeatedly has sought to use Davis' fund-raising to question the integrity of his administration and actions while in office.

One of the largest contributors to the Davis campaign is the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., which represents the state's prison guards.

The union gave the governor $251,000 shortly after the governor agreed to a significant pay raise for prison guards--despite the state's budget crisis.

Many of the other large contributors to the governor have been labor unions representing government employees, operating engineers, laborers, electrical workers, and the construction and pipefitter trades.

Davis' largest individual contributors include Hollywood producer Stephen L. Bing and Silicon Valley executive Reed Hastings. Casden Properties, a Los Angeles developer, gave the governor $105,000. Billionaire businessman Eli Broad, chairman of SunAmerica, contributed $100,000.

When asked about his penchant for fund-raising, Davis has explained that he is not wealthy and had to engage in intense fund-raising in case he faced a rich opponent with deep pockets--like Simon or Riordan.

Davis won the Democratic primary in 1998 after fighting wealthy rivals Al Checchi and Jane Harman, both of whom contributed heavily to their own campaigns.

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