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Loyal Donors Deliver Despite McClintock Dislike of Asking

Support comes in checks large and small. The big donors include Indian tribes and wealthy conservatives such as Howard Ahmanson.

October 02, 2003|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — When he entered politics 20 years ago, state Sen. Tom McClintock paid for his campaigns the old fashioned way: He tapped the same moneyed interests that finance most legislators' campaigns.

For the last 10 years, however, McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) has received only modest sums from such GOP stalwarts as the oil and insurance industries. Instead, McClintock, the antitax, free-market Republican who hopes to replace Gov. Gray Davis in Tuesday's election, has come to rely on some of the most conservative political donors in California to sustain his campaigns.

As GOP leaders have urged McClintock to cease campaigning and most major Republican donors have contributed to action movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a political moderate, many of McClintock's most conservative donors have remained loyal.

With the recall campaign bringing him national exposure, McClintock has expanded his base. He traveled to Colorado last weekend for a fund-raiser put on by national conservative leaders Richard Viguerie, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schafly and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

One host of the event was Howard Ahmanson Jr., scion of the family that founded Home Savings & Loan. Ahmanson, a major financier of free-market and religious think tanks, and his wife, Roberta, have given McClintock $202,000 since 2000, making them among his largest donors, campaign finance reports show.

Ahmanson and a political action committee he founded with three others have given McClintock at least $400,000 in the last decade, making McClintock one of the largest beneficiaries of its money.

"Howard Ahmanson's support is the California conservatives' equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," said Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a former Republican strategist. At a time when the California Republican Party is trying to portray itself as more moderate, Pitney said, Ahmanson "has been an important source of life support for conservatives."

Ahmanson's patronage benefits several nonprofit think tanks, including the Claremont Institute, where McClintock worked for two years after losing his 1994 run for state controller, and the Chalcedon Foundation, which promotes a brand of Christianity known as Christian Reconstructionism. Chalcedon produces journals for which McClintock political aide John Stoos routinely writes.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ahmanson served on Chalcedon's board of directors and was its largest benefactor, giving it at least $733,000. He remains a donor to the nonprofit organization, which was founded by Rousas John Rushdoony. Often called theologian to the religious right, Rushdoony, who died in 2001, advocated a nation ruled by Biblical law, a vision that assigned the death penalty for 18 sins, including murder, rape of a betrothed virgin, adultery and sodomy.

Ahmanson could not be reached for comment. But at a news conference this week, McClintock said he knew nothing about Ahmanson's theology, other than that he is a Christian.

"I don't believe the religious views of any of my supporters ... is relevant to this campaign," McClintock said. "This great debate that we're involved in is over the future of California. I leave theological questions to everyone's individual conscience."

Ahmanson was one of the largest donors to McClintock's 2002 run for state controller, having given him $150,000. Altogether, McClintock received $2 million in contributions from all sources during his run for controller last year. He narrowly lost to Controller Steve Westly, who spent $10 million on his campaign.

One of Ahmanson's past partners in political giving is Edward Atsinger III, owner of Salem Broadcasting, the nation's largest chain of Christian radio stations. Atsinger helped McClintock win his Senate seat by lending him $100,000, but has not donated to him in the current campaign.

Republican campaign consultant Arnold Steinberg, who worked for McClintock early in the lawmaker's career and for Ahmanson more recently, said that McClintock and Ahmanson find common ground on free-market issues, not matters of religion -- though like Ahmanson, McClintock opposes abortion rights.

Ahmanson "likes McClintock. He respects McClintock. He agrees with McClintock," Steinberg said. "He never seeks anything in return. He is looking for people who have certain views."

In the recall campaign, Ahmanson finds himself in direct alliance with wealthy Native American tribes, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, owners of a newly expanded casino resort in Temecula, and the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

Ahmanson and the two tribes have given a combined $205,000 to the California Republican Assembly, a group that represents perhaps the most conservative organized wing of the state GOP. It also receives donations for anti-gun-control groups, including the Gun Owners of California, one of the most ardent foes of restrictions on firearms.

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