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Westly's War Chest: $24 Million

His own wealth could help the state controller raise his profile in quest for the governor's job.

January 13, 2006|Michael Finnegan and Dan Morain | Times Staff Writers

Tapping the fortune he built as an EBay executive, state Controller Steve Westly has put $20 million into his campaign for governor -- more than enough to mount a viable bid for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Westly, whose main rival in the June primary is state Treasurer Phil Angelides, had $24.1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2005, according to a report he released Thursday. Hoping to show strength, Westly filed the report more than two weeks before the legal deadline.

The money will enable Westly to broadcast weeks of television ads to introduce himself to millions of voters who know little or nothing about him -- and, in all likelihood, to try to undercut Angelides as well.

Angelides, one of California's most seasoned campaign fund-raisers, reported $14.4 million in the bank at the end of June. Aides declined to release updated figures Thursday, saying Angelides will file his report close to the Jan. 31 deadline.

Regardless of the final numbers, it is clear that both candidates will have enough money to mount serious campaigns for the party nomination, said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, a former Westly advisor who is unaligned in the primary.

"At the end of the day, nobody's going to lose because they didn't have enough money," he said.

Westly apparently has the capacity to put much more into the campaign: He has released tax returns showing more than $225 million in adjusted gross income over the last decade. Angelides, who has made millions as a Sacramento developer, has put substantial sums into his previous campaigns too, but public records suggest his net worth could be a fraction of Westly's.

Schwarzenegger too has dipped into his personal money for his campaigns, using the fortune he built as a film star. Since he launched his first run for governor in 2003, he has dumped roughly $25 million into his political efforts.

Westly's current reliance on personal wealth -- he collected just $2.5 million from outside donors in the second half of 2005 -- is no guarantee of success. Airline titan Al Checchi dumped millions of his own money into a failed run for governor in 1998, and investment banker Bill Simon did the same four years later.

For Westly, money is a necessity to offset other advantages held by Angelides. Most important, Angelides has built a much bigger support network among organized labor and elected officials, including U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Angelides strengthened that advantage Thursday, winning the support of California Professional Firefighters, one of the most potent political forces against Schwarzenegger's failed November ballot measures.

Senior Angelides advisor Bob Mulholland said he expected the full coalition of firefighters, teachers and nurses that fought the Republican governor last year to unite behind Angelides.

"We all saw it brought him down to his knees" in November, Mulholland said.

Westly's finance report includes $1.8 million in donations he had collected before announcing which office he would seek in 2006, a spokesman said. As a result, some of the donors are Angelides supporters.

Overall, Westly has tapped a wide array of donors. Many come from his home base of the Silicon Valley; some do business with the controller's office and others would have issues before the next governor. State law generally puts a $22,300 cap on individual donations to a gubernatorial primary candidate.

Westly took at least $460,000 from venture capitalists and others in the investment industry. High-tech firms gave him a combined $254,000, including $109,000 from EBay and its executives. At the same time, he accepted more than $60,000 from law firms that have represented plaintiffs in suits accusing high-tech of stock fraud.

Westly has also tapped several Indian tribes that run casinos, pulling in $89,000. Schwarzenegger has struck deals with some of the tribes that have given to Westly, authorizing them the right to expand their casinos.

For a Democrat, Westly has received a relatively modest $65,000 from organized labor, including $1,586 from California Professional Firefighters.

In at least one case, Westly took money from individuals who work for a company that does business with the controller's office. Employees of Affiliated Computer Services Inc. gave $2,550 to the candidate. ACS is one of two companies authorized by the controller to review the books of the financial services companies seeking money that should be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

ACS has brought in $277 million to the state and received an 11% commission, or $30.5 million, said Yusef K. Robb, deputy chief of staff to Westly.

Robb said there was no link between state business and the donation, adding "any qualified company" could carry out the work: "There's no picking and choosing. The goal is to identify unclaimed property and get it back to the people it belongs to."

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