News and analysis on California politics
In little-scrutinized state races, Chiang and Jones bank millions

Two little-scrutinized races for California treasurer and insurance commissioner reflected a trend marking nearly all of the statewide contests this year -- Democratic dominance and Republican struggles to raise cash, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday.

John Chiang, the termed-out Democratic controller running for treasurer, reported $2.5 million in the bank, and incumbent Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones reported $2 million in his campaign war chest as of June 30, according to the reports.

Their GOP challengers are struggling to raise money. Treasurer candidate Greg Conlon reported $6,966 in the bank. State Sen. Ted Gaines, who is challenging Jones, has $49,949 in his campaign account but $40,110 in unpaid bills, according to the reports.

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GOP candidates for controller, secretary of state end June in debt

The Republicans vying to be controller and secretary of state entered the general election in the red, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state Thursday.

Pete Peterson, a university civic engagement leader who is running to be the state’s elections chief, had $21,811 in the bank and $85,204 in unpaid bills as of June 30, according to the reports. Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, a candidate for controller who is considered one of the state GOP’s brightest prospects, reported a bank balance of $133,118 and $258,226 in debt for the same time period.

Swearengin’s Democratic rival, state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, reported that she was in weak financial shape as well, with an $84,042 campaign war chest and $18,135 in debt, according to the reports. Both women spent roughly the same amount -- more than $600,000 -- in the first six months of this year, the bulk of it before the tight primary election in June.

State Sen.

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Ben Allen has fund-raising lead over Sandra Fluke in Senate contest

Two Democratic attorneys battling for an open state Senate seat in coastal Los Angeles County have been successful at tapping cash from supporters, they reported Thursday.

Ben Allen has a fund-raising lead over Sandra Fluke as the two compete in the November election for the 26th Senate District seat.

The seat is being vacated because incumbent Ted Lieu Lieu (D-Torrance) decided instead to run for the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills).

Allen, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board,  reported raising $266,174 during the six-week period ending June 30, and finishing it with $189,251 cash on hand and $69,185 in outstanding debt.

High-profile contributors to Allen include state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), County Supervisor Zav Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, Manhattan Beach Councilman Mark Burton and Malibu Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal.

Fluke's campaign raised $189,901 during the period, ending it with $69,901 in her...

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Fundraising is competitive in schools chief race

The Democrat-on-Democrat contest to be the state’s top schools official is competitive, at least from a fundraising perspective. Incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck reported similar sums raised, spent and in the bank, in campaign finance reports filed with the state on Thursday.

Torlakson, the teachers-union-backed incumbent, reported $194,550 in the bank, with $7,611 in debt. He raised a total of $778,335 this year, and spent $1.1 million.

Tuck, who bills himself as the “reform” candidate, also spent $1.1 million this year, and raised $814,580. He reported $179,913 in the bank, with $31,898 in debt.

The post of state superintendent of public instruction is officially a nonpartisan, but Torlakson and Tuck are both Democrats, albeit from different wings of the party. Torlakson almost hit 50% in the June primary election, which would have allowed him to escape a runoff in November.

Even if their finances stay similar, the race could hinge on outside spending by teachers’...

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Harris, Newsom report multimillion-dollar campaign war chests

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Democrats who are expected to sail to re-election in November, reported Thursday that they are sitting on millions of dollars in their campaign war chests.

Meanwhile, their little-known GOP rivals faltered badly in fundraising, according to reports filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Harris has nearly $3.6 million in her bank account, and is $14,139 in debt. She raised $209,323 in the reporting period between May 18 and June 30, and a total of $1 million this year. She has spent $528,113 this year, according to the reports.

Harris’ opponent in the November election, attorney Ronald Gold, reported a negative bank balance of $870, and is $13,500 in debt. He raised $2,236 in the period covered by the report, and a total of $29,236 this year.

Newsom reported a $2.3 million bank balance with $24,409 in debt. He raised $376,406 during the period covered by the report, and a total of $894,802 this year. He spent $314,443...

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GOP, Democratic leaders pouring money into key state Senate contests

Political party leaders are funneling large amounts of cash and other resources into three key legislative contests that could decide whether Democrats will regain their supermajority in the state Senate in the November election.

The Democratic State Central Committee of California reported spending $258,361 so far this year to support candidate Luis Chavez in the Central Valley’s 14th Senate District, as he struggles to recover from a poor showing in the primary against Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford.

The money spent by the party provided Chavez with staff, consultants and mailers, and helped Chavez raise $448,634 for the first half of the year, ending the period with just $18,287 in his campaign account. Contributors included Democratic Sens. Kevin de Leon, Ed Hernandez, Ricardo Lara, Mark Leno, Fran Pavley and the California Latino Caucus Leadership PAC.

Vidak’s campaign reported spending $216,542, ending the period with $436,137 in his political war chest. He received...

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Neel Kashkari entered race against Gov. Jerry Brown nearly broke

On the day Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari announced he had lived as a homeless man for a week to highlight poverty, his financial filings with the state show that his campaign is effectively broke.

The candidate entered the month of July with $197,937 in the bank and with debts of $164,319, according to the campaign finance reports, which were due Thursday. He spent nearly $4.4 million this year, the vast majority before the June 3 primary, in which he placed second, allowing him to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall.

Between May 18 and June 30, the filing period covered by the report, Kashkari raised $397,513 and spent nearly $1.7 million.

In contrast, Brown spent $37,461 and raised nearly $1.7 million during this period, according to a report the governor filed with the secretary of state. He has a campaign war chest of more than $22 million and has no debt.

Kashkari, who donated more than $2 million to his own campaign, faces a steep uphill...

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State Sen. Yee pleads not guilty to racketeering charge

Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco pleaded not guilty Thursday to a racketeering charge and two counts of conspiracy "to obtain property under the color of official right."

Yee entered the plea in federal court in San Francisco, responding to a new grand jury indictment released Friday that added allegations to the corruption case filed against Yee in March.

Meanwhile, Yee filed papers later Thursday indicating that, as of June 30, he has paid $28,400 to the law firm providing his attorney from his campaign account for secretary of state, which is flush with $362,638 after he dropped out of the race following his arrest. Yee’s account was boosted by a $430,790 refund from a media firm that was going to provide campaign advertisements before Yee dropped out.

He is accused of accepting $62,000 in campaign contributions in return for favors, including an offer to arrange the sale of machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles to an undercover FBI agent posing as a mob boss....

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Toni Atkins will briefly be California's first openly gay governor

With California's governor, lieutenant governor and state Senate president pro tem all out of town for part of Wednesday, newly elevated Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) finds herself briefly serving Wednesday as acting governor.

Atkins is the first openly gay person to serve as California governor, even if it is for less than the full day. Gov. Jerry Brown is flying back to California from a trade mission in Mexico on Wednesday night.

Atkins, who just became speaker in May, said she couldn’t help but think about “how a young girl who grew up in poverty in Virginia ends up as speaker and therefore gets the opportunity to be acting governor.”

“I wish my parents could see this,” she added. Both of her parents are deceased.

It is rare for the speaker to serve as acting governor -- former Assembly Speaker John Perez did not get to do it. Normally, the lieutenant governor and then the state Senate president pro tem would serve in the position, but both are also out of the state....

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Activists sue Santa Barbara, alleging voting rights violations

Santa Barbara on Tuesday joined the ranks of California cities to be sued over their method of electing public officials.

Five Spanish-surnamed registered voters in the city of more than 88,000 filed suit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, claiming the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

Santa Barabara Mayor Helene Schneider called the lawsuit premature and said the city had already authorized a study of its elections.

The plaintiffs allege the city's at-large elections system "has resulted in vote dilution for Latino residents and has denied them effective political participation in elections to the Santa Barbara City Council."

They want the court to order the city to begin electing its council members by geographic district. They believe by-district elections would give Latino voters, who are largely concentrated in certain areas of the city, a better chance of electing at least one representative of their choice to the council.

According to the lawsuit,...

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In Mexico, Gov. Brown has plenty to say about immigration crisis

On Tuesday morning Gov.Jerry Brown was sitting in the second row of an armored, dark-blue sport utility vehicle as it hurtled toward the next stop of his four-day trade mission.

He was clutching a paper cup of coffee that overflowed onto his hand and dripped onto his pants as the SUV struck pothole after pothole.

“This is tricky,” he said. A few minutes later, he pulled off the lid and gulped down the coffee in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Later on Tuesday, Brown will attempt to navigate the most controversial topic of his trip -- what to do about Central American migrants traveling north across the border from Mexico to the United States. Until arriving in Mexico on Sunday, Brown had said little about the topic.

But while in Mexico, it's something he's brought up at almost every turn, emphasizing the need to reunite children with their families and criticizing U.S. politicians who have used the topic for leverage against President Obama.

Asked during an interview with the Los...

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Brown, Mexican officials sign pacts on higher education, energy

Gov. Jerry Brown, on the third day of his trade mission here, signed two more agreements with Mexican officials on Tuesday.

The first, which was inked at the University of California's headquarters in Mexico City, is aimed at increasing collaboration in higher education.

Officials in each country would like to see more students crossing the border to study and conduct research. Currently, such education exchanges are limited, with only a few thousand students traveling from California to Mexico and vice versa.

"It just doesn't make sense, culturally and economically and academically that the numbers are so abysmal," said state Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

The second agreement signed Tuesday pledges new partnerships on energy issues, including increasing the use of renewable sources. Officials are also exploring increasing the connections between energy grids in California and Baja California.

Both of the agreements are nonbinding, similar to one on climate change that Brown and...

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