Politics

Celebrity donors pour money into this open California congressional seat

What do Christopher Lloyd, the director of “Ghostbusters,” one of the nation’s largest coal companies, James Cameron and a political action committee representing the nation’s dentists have in common? They all have opened their wallets to influence what is shaping up to be the hottest open-seat congressional race in California.

Among the four open seats in California’s congressional delegation, the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Lois Capps (Santa Barbara) is attracting some of the most attention. As the crowded field of at least seven candidates prepared to debate Thursday, here is a look at the dollars flooding the district.

There are a few story lines to follow, so grab a map and a calculator.

A money race in the Central Coast’s 24th congressional district

Capps’ retirement, and her daughter’s decision not to seek the seat, prompted a mad scramble in a peculiar district where Democrats have a slight advantage in voter registration — 37% Democratic, 34% Republican and more than 23% of voters choosing no party preference. Though President Obama carried the district by 11 points in 2012, tea party favorite Chris Mitchum — actor Robert Mitchum’s son — came within four percentage points of ousting Capps in 2014. A last-minute influx of $170,000 worth of attack ads and phone banking from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may have saved the party an embarrassing upset.

This time around, Democratic Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and 27-year-old Republican businessman Justin Fareed are building formidable war chests, hoping to make it out of the top-two primary on June 7.

Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a Democrat, is lagging far behind in the money race, though her campaign touts her support from women’s rights groups and a summer poll she conducted showing her leading Carbajal.

Salud Carbajal is the 10th best congressional fundraiser in a state with 53 House seats — behind Democratic Rep. Ami Bera

$1,379,957

It isn’t surprising that Carbajal leads the money race with just under $1.38 million raised over the course of the year and $970,309 in the bank. He has received Capps’ endorsement and a seal of approval from the party’s leadership — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). Over the weekend, he also won the support of 82% of local Democratic delegates giving him strong odds of winning the California Democratic Party’s backing at its convention later this month.

The lion’s share of his campaign’s money —$1.2 million — came from individual donors ranging from famous Santa Barbara County philanthropist Michael Armand Hammer to filmmaker Peter Douglas and hundreds of other donors. The most common profession listed on federal forms for Carbajal’s donors? Retired, attorney, president/CEO and owner.

Another sign of his strong establishment support: $134,096 of his campaign’s money has come from political action committees and leadership committees: $5,000 from House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer’s AmeriPac, $10,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC and $10,000 from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ fundraising PAC, called the Committee for Hispanic Causes/Building our Leadership Diversity PAC, or CHC BOLD PAC.


Justin Fareed, 27-year-old fundraising wunderkind, turns heads

$869,398

Fareed — who works for his family’s business, Pro Band Sports Industries Inc. — raised more than any other candidate in the last quarter with $438,353 to cap off a year with $869,398 raised. He ended the year strong with $767,265 in cash on hand.

He also received most of his money from individual donors, including Santa Barbara County Supervisor Peter Adam and investor Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., the former chairman of the Bechtel Corp.

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He also has received support from GOP Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (Alpine) as well as Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield’s leadership committee, Thoroughbred PAC, which contributed $5,000. Fareed once worked for Whitfield in Washington, D.C. Murray Energy Political Action Committee, the political wing of coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp., gave Fareed’s campaign $5,000.

Fareed, who came 615 votes short of beating Mitchum in the 2014 primary to face Capps, is making a strong run for the seat. He hired Kay­la Berube, who was Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er’s state polit­ic­al dir­ect­or in New Hamp­shire, to be his cam­paign man­ager. He also has hired Gridiron Communications as consultants — a firm that counts presidential hopeful Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a client — and Harris Media LLC, an online and digital strategy firm that has worked for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party.

Fareed’s strong showing in the past two quarters has turned heads in the district, said Michael Latner, an associate professor of political science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where the candidates for the race will debate for the first time on Thursday.

Read what happened at the debate on our Essential Politics news feed

“He has obviously done his homework and tapped into some deep networks between 2014 and now. He has been very successful in attracting attention,” Latner said. “He is going to make it a race.”

Helene Schneider lags behind party rival by $900,000

$479,183

Schneider raised $479,183 in 2015 and ended the year with almost $246,947 in the bank. That means Carbajal raised $900,774 more dollars than the next best Democrat in the race.

What can that much money buy you? Consider this: That difference is almost as much as the $1 million Capps spent on seven ads in 2014. The three ads she bought in the last month of the race alone cost $616,000. Running for Congress is not cheap.

Schneider has received $440,559 in individual contributions, including money from Robert L. Lieff, founder of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP.

Schneider has received only $7,000 in PAC money, $5,000 of it from the Los Angeles-based Women’s Political Committee, which seeks to promote progressive women seeking public office. Schneider has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and local state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara).

Schneider’s campaign began to rev up in the last quarter of 2015 when she hired Lauren Coffee, the former Texas state Director for Organizing for Action and the Northern Nevada Director for Obama for America, as her campaign manager. Campaign consultant Dave Jacobson said they expected to be outraised by Carbajal and cast the campaign as a “insurgent campaign against the Washington establishment.”

Celebrity power

Schneider boasts financial support from environmental activist Suzy Amis Cameron and her husband, “Avatar” director James Cameron. “Back to the Future” actor Christopher Lloyd gave $5,400 to Carbajal while the original “Ghostbusters” director, Ivan Reitman, gave to both Fareed ($2,500) and Schneider ($2,700).

Director James Cameron, from left, actor Christopher Lloyd and director Ivan Reitman have all contributed to candidates in the wide-open race to represent the 24th congressional district in the Central Coast. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times, Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times and David Livingston / Getty Images)


Katcho Achadjian raises little but still sits pretty

$386,915

Republican State Assemblyman K.H. “Katcho” Achadjian of San Luis Obispo is the fourth-best fundraiser — though he enters the race with perhaps the best name recognition among local voters. The former San Luis Obispo County Supervisor led both the poll released by Schneider’s campaign last year and one released by his own campaign this week, showing him with 20% of voters while the two Democrats each got 12%. The rest of the field all had less than 7%.

He raised just under $386,915 in 2015 and has $257,084 in cash on hand. He received $2,000 from the American Dental PAC as well as a few thousand dollars from other members of the state assembly, the San Luis Obispo County Wine Community PAC and the San Luis Obispo Deputy Sheriff's Association PAC. Achadjian received $345,000 from individuals, including several Central Coast businessmen. Among that group was developer Gary Grossman and vineyard owners George and Daniel Daou.

The debate Thursday will focus on the role of the federal government in higher education, the economy, political polarization, environmental issues and the state’s water crisis. With the June 7 primary not yet a priority for voters, especially given the number of candidates, the forum offers a first chance for the candidates to differentiate themselves.

That will be especially helpful for Democrat William Ostrander, a San Luis Obispo farmer also in the race, who is making the fight against the influence of money in politics the core of his campaign. He raised $20,317 in 2015 and ended the year with $303 in the bank. He ranks last among the five candidates who have set up campaign committees with the federal elections committee.

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