Recall Campaigners Spend $88 Million, Despite Limits

Times Staff Writer

Candidates and their contributors in last year’s recall contest spent nearly $88 million, even though it was the first statewide race in which donation limits applied.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a multimillionaire, was the biggest individual spender at $10.6 million, final campaign reports for last year show. A handful of Indian tribes that own casinos spent more than $11 million, most of it aimed at derailing Schwarzenegger’s campaign.

Drawing on donors ranging from developers, car dealers and venture capitalists to friends in the entertainment industry, Schwarzenegger spent $26.6 million, including his own money.


The donations were not just monetary. A spa in Sacramento donated a $195 gift certificate, and a health club contributed a $495 gift pass.

The governor, who ended the year with $1.68 million left in his campaign accounts, raised some of his funds by auctioning signed movie posters and other personal memorabilia worth $7,318. Supporters chipped in humidors, hotel packages and wine for auction.

Former Gov. Gray Davis spent $18.3 million in his failed attempt to stay in office. Despite having raised more money -- $131 million -- than any past California governor, Davis left office with a campaign debt of $268,000.

Interviews and campaign finance reports show that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the one prominent Democrat who entered the race to replace Davis, spent $16.8 million on the contest.

The figure includes money used for television ads featuring himself denouncing Proposition 54, an initiative that would have restricted government’s ability to collect racial and ethnic data.

Bustamante ended 2003 with a debt of $912,000, although he said Tuesday that the debt is now about $700,000. Bustamante said he intends to hold fundraisers to retire the debt.


The lieutenant governor is the target of a suit by the state Fair Political Practices Commission over his fundraising tactics during the recall. He has established a legal defense fund to pay for his representation.

The other major candidate in the recall race, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), spent $2.37 million and had no campaign debt. He placed third, behind Bustamante.

Despite the compressed campaign -- less than 80 days between the date the recall measure was placed on the ballot and the voting on Oct. 7 -- the cost of the race rivaled that of much longer recent statewide contests. In 1998, candidates for governor spent $118 million. In 2002, Davis and his Republican challengers spent $130 million.

The recall was the first statewide election governed by campaign contribution limits imposed by voters in 2000, when they approved Proposition 34. The measure was supposed to bar individual donors from giving more than $21,200 to candidates for governor. But key Proposition 34 rules did not to aspects of the recall.

* Caps on donations do not apply to recall targets, so Davis was able to raise money in chunks far larger than $21,200.

* The recall attracted several millionaire candidates, and there are no limits on how much of their own money they were allowed to spend.


* Recall backers were permitted to raise unlimited sums to promote the question of whether to recall Davis. Recall proponents spent $4.9 million, in addition to $4.2 million spent by Schwarzenegger specifically to back Davis’ ouster.

“There may be no way to contain the cost of a recall,” said Jim Knox, director of California Common Cause.

* Caps do not apply to interest groups that use their own money to wage independent campaigns. Tribes and organized labor spent at least $6.3 million in independent campaigns favoring Bustamante. The Republican National Committee spent $1 million against him.

McClintock also benefited from independent campaigns. Groups led by tribes that operate casinos spent more on McClintock’s behalf than the veteran state senator raised on his own, reports filed in recent weeks show.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians spent nearly $2.5 million to help elect McClintock. Other backers, including conservative Christians and anti-abortion activists, spent $384,000 on his behalf.

Lesser candidates and others who played prominent roles in the recall campaign reported spending $8.2 million.