Newport Beach Mints GOP Election Success : Fund raising: To win statewide, candidates would do well to appeal to this pocket of wealth and activism.


When it was time for Pete Wilson’s U.S. Senate campaign to raise money in Newport Beach, his managers knew he had to do something more than give a stump speech.

They had to throw a party--a big, glitzy bash.

The theme was royalty. The guests were not treated like subjects of the political kingdom, but insiders at the palace. Under giant glass chandeliers, they dined not only with the candidate but also with the President of the United States--then, Ronald Reagan--as well as Hollywood celebrities Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jaclyn Smith and Mickey Rooney.

“It was probably one of the biggest events I’ve ever seen,” said Scott Hart, a Republican political consultant who worked on Wilson’s 1988 Senate campaign.


If money is the fuel for political campaigns, then Newport Beach is the Republican Party’s North Slope. Political consultants say it is essential for every GOP statewide candidate to make a special appeal to this relatively small pocket of concentrated Republican wealth.

“Running any campaign in California, you better be here,” said Ken Khachigian, former White House speech writer and now the strategist for the Newport Beach-based U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Bruce Herschensohn.

“There are probably a lot of wealthy areas around the country, but you need to have people who have not just the money, but also the inclination to get involved,” Khachigian said.

It is the business mind and the surplus cash that combine to give Newport Beach its special affinity for Republican politics. Many of the most prominent industries in Newport Beach, such as development and finance, are heavily regulated by government, giving the city’s professionals a keen sense of the impact a politician’s decision can have on their bottom line.


“The mechanics is that any time you get a concentration of people who are active in business, you are going to get a greater participation in government,” said Buck Johns, a Newport Beach developer and major Republican contributor. “People here do understand they can make a difference in government; so there’s a never-ending chain of folks coming through” to raise money.

Residents of one Newport Beach neighborhood flanking Upper Newport Bay contribute more money to Republican congressional candidates than any other in California, according to a computer-assisted study by The Times of federal election records. The area includes Newport Center and Big Canyon, the area where some of the county’s wealthiest people live.

A second neighborhood, the bluff-top community of Corona del Mar, is home to political givers who also rank among the state’s most generous to GOP candidates, according to the study.

Prominent Republican contributors live throughout the city. One, Irvine Co. Chairman Donald L. Bren, lives on Newport’s Linda Isle just across the channel from the late actor John Wayne’s old house, and not far from another of the nation’s wealthiest real estate magnates, George Argyros, president of Arnel Development Co.

Both Bren and Argyros are major activists in national politics and prominent members of President Bush’s Team 100, made up of contributors who gave Republicans at least $25,000 during the 1988 campaign.

Bren was the host of a fund-raiser Bush held in Orange County. And last year, when the President hosted a summit meeting with then-Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, it was at a Newport Beach hotel owned by the Irvine Co.

Political fund-raisers are well acquainted with the high society in Newport Beach, and they know that they can be most successful at raising money in the area with events tailored to the audience.

“There are a lot of social pressures in Newport Beach as to your financial standing, your profession, where you live, what clubs you belong to,” said Republican consultant Hart. “Fund-raisers play on that in this city--they try and make the events as much of a gala as possible and it becomes competitive, it becomes the place to be seen.”


Tonight, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, Herschensohn’s opponent, is hosting Orange County’s largest fund-raiser of the 1992 election season with a $1,000-per-person event at the Coto de Caza estate of developer William Lyon.

While many of the givers probably know little about Campbell, a congressman from San Jose, they all know Lyon, one of the nation’s wealthiest men, and his special guest, former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, who will give the audience a special briefing on global politics.

With fewer than 70,000 residents, Newport Beach is not even among the 10 largest cities in Orange County. But it is a new-money version of the Newport in Rhode Island where America’s early industrialists built the closest things to castles in the nation.

Instead of railroads and oil, the money in Newport Beach is from 20th-Century real estate, banking, entertainment and the self-made.

Tourism has become one of the city’s biggest industries as out-of-towners ride boats and buses to get a glimpse of what life is like in a place where homes can cost more than $12 million and pleasure boats are selling at $10 million.

Custom home builders scan the globe for just the right details to decorate Newport’s mansions. Pink marble for a garden wall is ordered from Italy, a special breed of palm tree with more of a South Pacific sway is imported from Samoa and cut glass is taken from an old New England lighthouse to fit the nautical theme in a $6-million Cape Cod design.

Some of the private yachts in Newport’s marina are so big they have full-time crews and waterfront offices. When they sail to exotic world ports, the owners often don’t even go along--they fly to wherever their luxury accommodations make port.

“I heard that 60% of the household wage earners in Newport didn’t go to work this morning,” said Richard R. Luehrs, president of the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce. “They went to the mailbox to get their check--either rents, royalties or pensions.”


In profile, Newport Beach is one of the wealthiest, whitest and most Republican cities in California.

The average household income is over $88,000, more than double the national average. The city is 93% white. And in Orange County--the most concentrated GOP turf in the state--Newport Beach is the most heavily Republican city. While 55% of the county overall is registered with the GOP, Newport’s Republican share is 71%, with barely one in five registered as a Democrat.

For all of its vigor in politics, however, the beliefs and persuasions of many Newport Beach voters--and especially givers--are distinct among Orange County Republicans. To much of California, Orange County’s stereotype is that it’s the bastion of anti-abortion and anti-communist conservatism. In Newport Beach, however, while all of the stripes in the political spectrum are represented, the political incentives are largely based on economics.

Unlike other Orange County conservatives, many in Newport Beach are not motivated to participate in politics by social issues like abortion and gay rights. As a result, abortion rights supporter Gov. Wilson continues to find support in Newport Beach, even while he has been severely criticized by most of Orange County’s Sacramento delegation.

Newport Beach politics also favors small government, one that is not intrusive. At the same time, however, it supports enough government activism to protect the way people live and work.

“That’s where the conservative comes from--it’s, ‘How do I protect my balance sheet assets?’ ” said chamber president Luehrs. “And when it comes to politics, ‘Do I send a check?’ Not only ‘Yes,’ but ‘Hell, yes!’ ”

Newport Beach is not all mega-wealth. That’s just the slice of the city that sparkles the most brightly.

Newport is a city of staunchly independent boroughs with each claiming to be every bit as authentic as the richer parts of town, if not more. It was that sense of intense identification with the neighborhood in communities such as Balboa and Lido Island and Corona del Mar that forced the Chamber of Commerce to adopt the neutral title of “Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Luehrs.

One of the largest segments of the population arrived around World War II, when Newport Beach was a genteel seaside getaway with a commercial fishing village and Coney Island-style boardwalk. As a result, Newport Beach has one of the oldest median ages in California--41--and while many of its long-timers didn’t come to the area with money, the rising financial tide has certainly lifted all those who were aboard when housing prices soared to their current average of $553,000.

Those who remember Newport Beach in the slow lane have fought to preserve the landmarks of the era. While nearly two dozen seaside amusement parks have closed on the West Coast in recent decades, Newport residents packed their City Council chambers to defend the Fun Zone arcades and carnival rides on the Balboa Peninsula, where the first frozen banana dessert was invented at Don’s ice cream stand in 1947.

Like most other cities on the coast, Newport also could have built a bridge over its marina. But instead, it clings to a 1906 ferry that still takes passengers for a quarter and motorists for 65 cents.

“I still see the old Newport and the quaintness of Balboa,” said Joe Tunstall, 53, who swept floors at the Fun Zone when he was 11 and now owns the bumper cars, a haunted house and merry-go-round. “Balboa brings out the kid in older people; they become younger when they come here.”

State Sen. Marian Bergeson, 64, moved to Newport Beach 34 years ago and launched her political career fighting for a library. Her political world involves some of the nation’s most powerful business tycoons, but to her, Newport still means peace and quiet.

“To me, Newport Beach is a walk on the beach--and if I want to feel truly exhilarated, I go to the pier and get a burger and a malt,” Bergeson said. “That’s as good as it gets.”

“Preservation of the quality of life, there is that protectionism,” said Bergeson.

Phil Sansone, 71, a retired Air Force pilot, is the mayor of Newport Beach. Sansone arrived at City Hall for his office hours recently wearing boat shoes, a pullover burgundy shirt and lugging his canvas briefcase.

Even during the recent lean years, the city has maintained a pay-as-you-go budget with the county’s second-highest ratio of police officers per capita and one of its lowest crime rates.

Many neighborhoods are sensitive to unwelcome change, Sansone said.

“They get concerned when a tattoo shop shows up in there. They came completely unglued about that,” he said. “And T-shirts, they hate T-shirt shops. When a T-shirt shop was suggested, they let us know in no uncertain terms.”

The wealth and celebrity of Newport Beach has also made tourism a major industry, and skipper Thom Isensee of the Fun Zone Boat Co. has escorted thousands of visitors over the last 15 years through the West Coast’s largest pleasure boat marina.

Isensee’s tour points out several movie locations as well as the homes of business tycoons and Hollywood celebrities--especially the city’s favorite, John Wayne--in a narration mixed with jokes about people so ridiculously rich that it’s funny.

One corner mansion on Harbor Island sold for $6 million, he said. The new owner then spent another $3 million on renovations, Isensee said. “Imagine that, a $6-million fixer-upper,” he cracks.

Up the Bay, a new $10-million yacht has arrived at a house in Bay Shores, a boat so big the neighbors complained that it blocks their view. They filed a lawsuit--"Newport’s second-favorite activity,” said Isensee. “Number one is boating.”

Passing boats named Entrepreneur, Cest La Vie, Bottom Line and Camelot, the cruise nears a channel buoy packed with lazy seals, one basking in the sun with its nose in the air. “That’s seal body language for: ‘I’m from Newport,’ ” Isensee jokes.

Political Giving by O.C. Neighborhoods

Aggregate contributions of $200 or more from Orange County neighborhoods to candidates running for Congress. (The Times’ computer analysis is compiled by postal ZIP code and is based on Federal Election Commission records for 1989 and 1990):

Zip Republican Democratic Total Code Rank Candidates Candidates Amount 90620 52. $3,000 $2,000 $5,000 90621 48. $1,950 $4,400 $6,360 90623 75. $1,200 $0 $1,200 90630 60. $2,650 $750 $3,400 90631 14. $16,525 $9,750 $26,275 90680 68. $2,100 $0 $2,100 90720 63. $1,000 $3,800 $4,800 90740 22. $4,468 $12,120 $16,588 90742 73. $1,500 $0 $1,500 92613 69. $2,000 $0 $2,000 92621 23. $7,226 $9,150 $16,375 92622 58. $500 $3,500 $4,000 92624 56. $3,750 $500 $4,250 92625 2. $88,527 $20,700 $109,227 92626 10. $24,975 $7,425 $32,400 92627 17. $14,650 $3,300 $17,950 92628 82. $250 $0 $250 92629 27. $4,225 $10,500 $14,725 92630 35. $7,499 $2,800 $10,299 92631 39. $8,400 $0 $8,400 92632 34. $1,900 $2,500 $10,400 92633 30. $12,600 $750 $13,350 92635 15. $20,085 $3,350 $23,436 92636 79. $250 $600 $850 92640 70. $1,800 $200 $2,000 92641 65. $1,900 $500 $2,400 92643 77. $1,000 $0 $1,000 92644 80. $300 $200 $500 92645 67. $2,000 $200 $2,200 92646 31. $5,251 $8,000 $13,251 92647 38. $4,167 $4,890 $9,057 92648 37. $7,000 $2,850 $9,850 92649 12. $20,884 $7,700 $28,584 92650 74. $1,250 $0 $1,250 92651 4. $34,750 $24,250 $59,000 92652 43. $1,850 $5,500 $7,350 92653 11. $23,717 $4,951 $28,668 92654 61. $3,350 $0 $3,350 92656 72. $1,550 $0 $1,550 92658 19. $15,000 $2,500 $17,500 92660 1. $189,839 $37,675 $227,514 92661 20. $16,750 $0 $16,750 92662 50. $4,950 $750 $5,700 92663 8. $31,555 $6,850 $38,405 92665 49. $5,550 $160 $6,300 92666 63. $1,550 $1,000 $2,550 92667 6. $38,530 $6,500 $45,030 92668 46. $5,250 $1,500 $6,750 92669 33. $12,295 $500 $12,795 92670 66. $2,275 $0 $2,275 92672 45. $6,860 $300 $7,160 92675 26. $8,047 $7,050 $15,097 92677 7. $25,374 $14,000 $39,374 92679 64. $1,500 $1,000 $2,500 92680 21. $16,000 $700 $16,700 92683 25. $11,400 $3,750 $15,150 92686 28. $10,450 $3,833 $14,283 92688 57. $4,000 $250 $4,250 92691 36. $5,864 $4,200 $10,064 92692 51. $4,750 $700 $5,450 92701 29. $4,510 $9,450 $13,960 92702 76. $750 $400 $1,150 92704 40. $450 $7,500 $7,950 92705 9. $29,700 $7,800 $37,500 92706 32. $10,950 $1,900 $12,850 92707 18. $14,281 $3,350 $17,631 92708 24. $10,425 $5,550 $15,975 92713 13. $24,400 $3,400 $27,800 92714 3. $48,284 $17,350 $65,634 92715 5. $40,304 $12,150 $52,454 92717 81. $350 $0 $350 92718 59. $3,750 $0 $3,750 92720 47. $3,200 $3,550 $6,750 92728 78. $1,000 $0 $1,000 92801 62. $2,165 $800 $2,965 92802 44. $450 $6,800 $7,250 92803 54. $3,700 $1,000 $4,700 92804 55. $1,250 $3,050 $4,300 92805 42. $5,500 $2,024 $7,524 92806 41. $2,650 $4,900 $7,550 92807 16. $17,100 $1,450 $18,550 92808 71. $1,250 $500 $1,750

Source: Los Angeles Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records

Orange County’s Political Gold Coast When it comes to serious political giving, no neighborhood in California contributes more to Republican congressional candidates than residents around Upper Newport Bay in Newport Beach. Nearby areas of Laguna Beach, Irvine and Corona del Mar also are among the leaders in contributions, making that stretch of the coast a favored haunt for political hopefuls from across the nation. A Times analysis has identified the 10 most generous county neighborhoods, ranked by postal ZIP code.

1-- 92660: Total Contributions: $227,514 Total Contributions to Republican Candidates: $189,839 Total Contributions to Democratic Candidates: $37,675 Newport Beach at a Glance Average Household Income: $88,000 White Population: 93% Voters Registering as Republicans: 71% Average Home Price: $553,000 Median Age: 41 Per Capita Income: $27,546 The other nine: Our most generous neighborhoods

2 3 4 5 92625 92714 92651 92715 Total Contributions $109,227 $65,634 $59,000 $52,454 Total to Republicans $88,527 $48,284 $34,750 $40,304 Total to Democrats $20,700 $17,350 $24,250 $12,150

6 7 8 9 10 92667 92677 92663 92705 92626 Total Contributions $45,030 $39,374 $38,405 $37,500 $32,400 Total to Republicans $38,530 $25,374 $31,555 $29,700 $24,975 Total to Democrats $6,500 $14,000 $6,850 $7,800 $7,425

Source: Los Angeles Times analysis of Federal Election Commission records