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California Dreamin’ of Big Campaign Dollars and a Democratic House
California is nothing if not interesting. What other state would play political host to an “aw shucks” actor of modest talents, Mr. Moonbeam, so named by the late magnificent Chicago columnist, Mike Royko, and a muscle-head, serial groper, also an actor of modest talents. All went on to become governors of this Gold Rush state. Moonbeam, not meant derogatorily by the way, even retired to the governor’s mansion – well, actually a Sacramento loft. Rumor has it you can rent out the mansion and party all night if you feel like it.
So that’s the political microcosm of the left coast. Since I’m most interested in the role money plays in today’s elections, I decided to isolate California and see what’s going on in the upcoming big-bucks primary. California is a critical battleground state if the democrats are to reclaim the house. Redistricting based on the 2010 census has actually benefited democratic house candidates and there could be a turnaround in the state of as many as 5 or 6 of the nationally needed 25 house seats.
The most definitive mode of judging the current California campaign status is through the prism of cold, hard cash. Who is on the receiving end of how much and why. I’ve decided to concentrate on congressional races and pretty much limit my inquiry to the million dollar babies of the 2011/2012 reporting period; those candidates, mostly incumbents, who have already eclipsed that number in the early going. This, of course, does not count the super PAC money. I should hasten to add that the guy at the top of the ticket intends to hoard all his money in the White House basement. President Obama has already informed the democratic congressional leadership that Obama For America and the Democratic National Committee are keeping their hundreds of millions close to home. Furthermore, don’t expect the pres to warble “Let’s Stay Together” at any of your individual congressional fundraisers. Ain’t happening!
California is trying an open primary this year. It will be held June 5th and only the top 2 vote-getters, even if they’re of the same party, advance to November. Voters can vote either party.
Before examining the house races, let’s check out the one prominent democratic senator on the list. Dianne Feinstein has already accumulated an immense treasure chest of $11 ½ million, about three times the amount of her closest competitor in the fundraising department. The former San Francisco mayor has been in the senate for nearly 20 years and she’s a lot older than you might think. She’ll be 79 June 22nd. She gets the largest share of her booty from lawyers and law firms. With all that campaign capital and a net worth estimated at upwards of $100 million, Lady Dianne will stay in her seat as long as she wishes. When politicians coffers get that oversubscribed, said candidate usually papers other campaigns involved in close races with a few extra bucks.
The California District 12 race involves arguably the most powerful Democratic representative in the house, former Speaker of the House and current House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has represented district 8 for a quarter of a century but that district is now 12 under recent redistricting. She’s also older than you’d guess at 72 but looks and acts at least a decade younger. Like her sister Democrat, she’s not a pauper with a net worth estimated to be as high as $58 million. Pelosi has garnered about $1,500,000 in the 2011/2012 cycle and should have an easy time of it barring a substantial crossover vote.
Republican muckraker, Darrell Issa, whose net worth is in Romney’s ballpark has gathered well over a million bucks. His nearest competitor is somebody named Tetalman with about $21,500 in the coffers. Squirrels have gathered more on a slow day.
Issa heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He promised to expose all manner of bad democratic behavior. He made a huge deal of the General Services Administration scandal especially the $822,000 Las Vegas party. No doubt it was a hedonistic overspending of money all right. What Issa (and most other Obama-haters) neglected to point out was that in large measure it wasn’t your money or my money they were wasting. Doesn’t make it right mind you, but the money came from something called an Industrial Funding Fee. Contractors with Multiple Award Schedules pay such fees and they can add up fast. Other contractors also pay the GSA as well as other agencies.
The ATF program ‘Fast and Furious’ is Issa’s other target. He accuses Attorney General Eric Holder of hiding all the particulars from him and for that reason Holder should be impeached. Truth Alert! Congress has been kept in the loop since the programs inception in 2006 as Issa well knows. His yammering is purely political. Reference my earlier submission on the subject.
I want to take a quick look at one more interesting big-money race. This one pits right-wing stalwart incumbent, Dan Lungren against Ami Bera, a first- generation physician whose parents were immigrants from India. Bera ran against Lungren in 2010 and lost. Lungren first served as representative from 79-89, came home to become California’s Attorney General from 91-99, then returned to congress in 2005 to stay…or maybe not. While Attorney General he was a driving force behind the draconian Three Strikes law which only an S & M devotee could love. Bera, on the other hand, headed a program called SacAdvantage that provided medical access to 200,000 uninsured Sacramento residents. Both are well over the million dollar mark with Dr. Bera getting strong fiscal backing from the Indian-American community giving him a $200,000 margin at last accounting. He should easily make the final two.
Before I tap my last key for this story, a little side journey. There has been only one person with roots in India to ever serve in congress, Dalip Singh Saund (1957-1963). Six Indian-Americans ran last time around and were all defeated. The most high-profile Indian-American politicians are both governors. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s parents were immigrants from Punjab as were, coincidentally, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s parents. Jindal is a brainiac not to be taken lightly. Nikki Haley is, well, always on the cusp of some ethical problem. Rohit Khanna from California is a another Indian-American to keep your eye on. He’s a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale law. He’s run once before and this year raised a ton of money but decided at the last minute not to run. Trust me, you’ll be hearing from ‘Ro’ again.
That concludes our pundit flyover of the state of California. Fasten your seatbelts; we’ll be landing Tuesday, June 5th.