Cashing in on her feminist appeal, Rep. Barbara Boxer has silenced critics who doubted her ability to finance a U.S. Senate campaign by collecting $4 million in contributions and building a base of 52,000 donors that ranks among the nation's largest direct-mail fund-raising operations.
Boxer, a San Francisco area Democrat, matched prodigious fund-raiser Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) dollar for dollar during the campaign by developing an assortment of innovative techniques. She gathered two-thirds of her campaign funds from women and nearly 60% from small donors who gave an average of $28.
"People I know in the political consulting business said she didn't have a chance," said Larry Berg, director of USC's Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics. "They said she is an outsider and she can't raise enough money to be credible. What she has shown is that she can."
Boxer's heavy reliance on women and small donors sets her apart from her opponents in the tight Democratic primary race for the six-year Senate seat being vacated by Alan Cranston. Both Levine and Lt. Gov. Leo T. McCarthy depended primarily on large, individual donors who contributed the maximum $1,000.
While all three candidates are solid Democratic liberals cut from the same political fabric, a Times computer-assisted study of federal election records found striking differences in their approaches to raising a total of more than $10 million in the nation's most expensive primary. Their fund-raising tactics also offer a glimpse into the network of support and campaign strategy that each candidate hopes to ride to victory.
With five days to go before the June 2 primary, the three-way race appears up for grabs. The latest Times Poll, taken last week among registered Democratic voters throughout California, found McCarthy at 28%, Boxer 24% and Levine 22% with 26% undecided.
But Levine leads the pack in the important category of money available to spend in the waning days of the campaign--in part due to a $500,000 personal loan he made to his campaign May 21. Levine also has more money for the stretch run because the expense of operating a direct-mail campaign has consumed much of Boxer's funds. As of May 13, Levine reported $1.4 million cash on hand compared to $1 million for McCarthy and $335,001 for Boxer.
When the primary race began last year, most political experts predicted that Levine would dominate the fund-raising field, McCarthy would finish a respectable--though distant--second and Boxer was out of her league.
Levine did not disappoint. He accumulated a $6-million campaign fund by soliciting $4 million in contributions together with $1.7 million that he raised earlier as a House member and a $200,000 personal loan last December. As expected, Levine received the bulk of his support--$3.4 million--from wealthy contributors who each gave at least $200 to his campaign. A vast majority of these funds came from Jewish supporters in major cities across the country and his home base in West Los Angeles, particularly Beverly Hills, Bel-Air and Hollywood.
"These are very largely personal friends, people I've known a substantial part of my life," Levine said of his donors. "Throughout my political career, this is the base of support I've had as a congressman. This is my world."
McCarthy's fund-raising world is far more diverse. He pursued a middle ground between Levine's near-exclusive reliance on wealthy donors and Boxer's army of small donors. As a longtime statewide official, McCarthy succeeded in raising $2.5 million evenly between his Northern California base and Southern California.
"The truth is, when you look at my financial supporters, you don't find any one single identifiable group," McCarthy said. "Mel has a few giants. I don't have that kind of operation where one businessman who has tremendous influence and a powerful reputation will phone scores of people."
Boxer counted on strong grass-roots support in launching an ambitious direct-mail program that shipped more than 1.5 million letters, most of them containing a pro-feminist appeal. But her fund-raising success came at a steep price: The high cost of direct mail. Boxer spent 45 cents to raise every dollar, compared to 17 cents on the dollar by Levine and 16 cents for McCarthy.
"I didn't have a choice," Boxer said of her high expenses. "This was the only way I could raise money."
Shortly after she jumped into the Senate race last year, Boxer huddled with a dozen friends and advisers to discuss strategy. The group quickly came to a consensus, Boxer recalled, telling her: "There is no way you are going to raise more than $2 million. Let's be honest. It's not going to happen."
Boxer had never raised more than $500,000 in a House race, had received little money from political action committees and had virtually no contacts in donor-rich Southern California. By last summer, she had only 7,000 contributors.
That was before the controversial Clarence Thomas hearings, when Boxer and several other congresswomen were seen on national television marching across the Capitol to protest the lack of female representation in the Senate.
"Since the Anita Hill hearing, everything changed in terms of women writing checks," Boxer said. "People didn't even wait for a solicitation."
Until that time, 60% of Boxer's contributors were men; today women account for two-thirds of her support. Substantial backing came from EMILY's List, an abortion rights women's group that supports Democratic candidates. To date, Boxer has received $197,369 in individual contributions from 1,676 members of EMILY's List, which stands for Early Money is Like Yeast (It Makes the Dough Rise).
Boxer also attracted individual contributions from actresses through the Hollywood Women's Political Committee. Among her financial supporters are Joanne Woodward, Marlo Thomas, Marsha Mason and Katharine Hepburn. Last weekend, singer Bonnie Raitt performed at a fund-raiser in a private Beverly Hills home that brought in $70,000.
Most of Boxer's support from women came in small donations. In all, 58% of her money was raised from individuals who contributed less than $200.
Boxer reached these small donors by purchasing 42 mailing lists from the likes of Texas Gov. Ann Richards, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), Greenpeace, Planned Parenthood, Council for a Livable World and the Sierra Club.
Her 52,000 contributors exceed the donor base compiled by front-running Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
"I never dreamed I could raise as much as I have raised," Boxer said. "The thing I'm most proud of is that I have the most individual contributors of anyone in the entire state. If you have to raise all of this money, it's best to go to ordinary people who have no special agenda."
The minute he set sights on the Senate, Levine knew precisely what he needed to do to position himself to win: Devote as much as eight hours a day on the telephone stroking potential fund-raisers and contributors.
This would enable a candidate such as Levine--little known statewide--to stockpile his funds for an all-out television advertising blitz in the final weeks of the primary.
Levine personally solicited most of his funds by calling an extensive network of prominent friends and contacts built up over the past two decades as a state legislator and congressman representing West Los Angeles. His telephone bill alone totals $61,229 for 17 months, including $5,708 with GTE Airphone and $6,669 in cellular phone charges.
"It is an overwhelming person-to-person task. . . ," Levine said. "The difficulty of what I am doing is that it requires so much of my own personal time."
Early on, Levine dismissed the kind of mass appeal approach used by Boxer. "If your message isn't 'Elect me because of my gender or because of an appeal to a particular powerful interest,' the return on mail is not generally that substantial in terms of net dollars," he said.
Instead, Levine raised nearly 80% of his total receipts from large contributors while small donors (less than $200) accounted for only 6%.
Levine outpaced his two primary opponents in accepting $279,485 from political action committees. McCarthy received $217,870 in PAC money and Boxer took in $174,608.
Levine mined to near-perfection his West Los Angeles base, generating large contributions totaling nearly $2.6 million from the region. About 20% of his contributions came from the entertainment industry, according to Levine's campaign.
Among the celebrities who were instrumental in helping Levine are producer Steven Spielberg, producer Dawn Steel, TV mogul Barry Diller and MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman. Tonight, Levine will hold an "end-of-the-campaign" fund-raiser at his sister's home in Beverly Hills that is being co-hosted by actors Billy Crystal, Goldie Hawn, Sally Field, Rob Reiner and James Earl Jones, who has narrated Levine's television ads.
Such a heavy reliance on his own immediate area "may translate into problems for Levine if he is not known enough to draw money statewide," said Herbert E. Alexander, a campaign finance expert at USC.
In Northern California, Levine raised only $155,709 or 5% of his contribution total.
Levine has traveled extensively outside California to hold fund-raisers--primarily among Jewish supporters--in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Las Vegas and Washington. In the process, he took in $715,143, or 21% of his large, individual contributions from outside the state. This amounts to more than twice the amount of out-of-state contributions collected by Boxer and more than seven times the amount given to McCarthy.
"It is an important part of my fund-raising base as it has increasingly been an important part of Senate candidates' across the country," Levine said of his out-of-state donors. "It is the flip side of every senator in America coming into Southern California (to raise money)."
Leo T. McCarthy
Before he decided to run for the Senate, McCarthy called 150 of his friends around the state and asked their thoughts. For those who responded positively, he had a second, more important question: How much could they raise for him before the primary?
"What I was doing was phoning people who had been loyal to me and good at fund raising," McCarthy said. "Mostly this is done on a personal friendship basis. Over the years you just develop close friends. I joke with them that I am an expensive friend and they agree."
McCarthy said he received commitments for about $1.25 million, which persuaded him to enter the race. He said he had hoped to pull in about $3.5 million for the primary, but through mid-May produced only $2.5 million.
He used a mixture of small fund-raising events and direct mail, but has not been wildly successful at either.
While Levine picked up $1.1 million last year at a Beverly Hilton fund-raiser, McCarthy's most lucrative events were a $175,000 gathering in San Francisco and a $100,000 dinner at the residence of Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall. While Boxer chalked up 52,000 donors through direct mail and other fund raising, McCarthy has about 17,500 contributors.
McCarthy said he concentrated on putting together about 200 small fund-raising events that raised about $10,000 apiece.
"I've appeared at all of them," McCarthy said. "My events are almost always in someone's home to hold down costs."
A prominent group of McCarthy supporters that emerges from federal records are Asian-Americans, who have funneled at least $313,775 to his campaign. McCarthy said he began courting Asian-Americans several years ago by arranging personal meetings and urging that they become more involved in politics.
"Over time, I developed strong, emotional ties," he said. "I've been very lucky. There's been just a number of people in that community who have come through for me."
Times researcher Murielle Gamache contributed to this story.
The following chart shows total campaign spending in 1991 and 1992 by each of the three Democratic candidates seeking nomination for the six-year Senate seat.
BARBARA BOXER Dollar % of total amount expenditures OVERHEAD: * Office Furniture/Supplies: $80,036 1.88% * Rent: 70,724 1.66 * Salaries: 471,199 11.05 * Taxes: 97,064 2.28 * Bank Fees: 9,780 .23 * Lawyers/Accountants: 24,007 .56 * Telephone: 91,291 2.14 * Campaign Automobile: 2,035 .05 * Office Equipment: 39,557 .93 * Travel: 100,825 2.36 * Restaurant/Food: 2,545 .06 Total overhead: 989,063 23.19 FUND RAISING: * Events 549,580 12.89 * Direct Mail: 1,178,179 27.63 * Telemarketing: 54,567 1.28 Total fund raising: 1,782,326 41.79 ADVERTISING: * Electronic Media: 1,169,753 27.43 * Voter Persuasion Mail: 17,000 .40 * Other Media: 2,445 .06 Total advertising: 1,189,198 27.89 POLLING: 135,234 3.17 OTHER CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY: 139,352 3.27 SMALL EXPENSES (UNDER $200) 29,422 .69 TOTAL EXPENDITURES: $4,264,595 100.00%
MEL LEVINE Dollar % of total amount expenditures OVERHEAD: * Office Furniture/Supplies: $42,663 .93% * Rent: 65,009 1.41 * Salaries: 378,597 8.23 * Taxes: 143,614 3.12 * Bank Fees: 0 -- * Lawyers/Accountants: 69,298 1.51 * Telephone: 61,229 1.33 * Campaign Automobile: 0 -- * Office Equipment: 19,068 .41 * Travel: 106,045 2.30 * Restaurant/Food: 3,720 .08 Total overhead: 889,243 19.32 FUND RAISING: * Events 684,709 14.88 * Direct Mail: 0 -- * Telemarketing: 0 -- Total fund raising: 684,709 14.88 ADVERTISING: * Electronic Media: 2,623,145 56.99 * Voter Persuasion Mail: 255,332 5.55 * Other Media: 1,950 .04 Total advertising: 2,880,427 62.58 POLLING: 0 -- OTHER CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY: 132,689 2.88 SMALL EXPENSES (UNDER $200) 15,210 .33 TOTAL EXPENDITURES: $4,602,278 100.00%
LEO T. McCARTHY Dollar % of total amount expenditures OVERHEAD: * Office Furniture/Supplies: $44,509 2.88% * Rent: 46,227 2.99 * Salaries: 387,693 25.09 * Taxes: 150,058 9.71 * Bank Fees: 1,755 .11 * Lawyers/Accountants: 42,639 2.76 * Telephone: 53,396 3.46 * Campaign Automobile: 0 -- * Office Equipment: 15,854 1.03 * Travel: 56,182 3.64 * Restaurant/Food: 1,343 .09 Total overhead: 799,656 51.76 FUND RAISING: * Events 121,605 7.87 * Direct Mail: 149,914 9.70 * Telemarketing: 134,452 8.70 Total fund raising: 405,971 26.28 ADVERTISING: * Electronic Media: 215,539 13.95 * Voter Persuasion Mail: 2,500 .16 * Other Media: 0 -- Total advertising: 218,039 14.11 POLLING: 68,131 4.41 OTHER CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY: 43,644 2.82 SMALL EXPENSES (UNDER $200) 9,584 .62 TOTAL EXPENDITURES: $1,545,025 100.00%
SOURCE: Los Angeles Times study of Federal Election Commission reports