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For candidates, a new California gold rush

Times Staff Writer

A UCLA linebacker shells out $11,100 to help a Republican senator in Pennsylvania.

A businessman from the small Northern California town of Eureka spends $515,000 to defeat a powerful Democrat in South Dakota.

A Silicon Valley couple funnels cash to elect Democratic secretaries of state in swing states like Ohio who will oversee voting in the coming presidential election.

Those tidbits from campaign finance reports demonstrate why California lately feels like Iowa or New Hampshire next winter. For politicians, including presidential candidates, it’s where the money is.

Last week alone, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware made the trek. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was also here, following his rival, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been here the week before. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another Republican contender, will be here next month.

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“It is the place you go to get political money,” said Sheila Krumholz, director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

Californians spent at least $502 million on federal campaigns in the last four years, federal campaign records show -- 24% more than runner-up New York and about 13 % of all federal campaign funds raised nationally.

At The Times’ request, the center compiled a list of California’s top 100 donors to federal campaigns. The Times interviewed contributors and reviewed Federal Election Commission documents and other records.

The donors gave during the 2003-2004 election cycle, which included the latest presidential campaign, and the 2005-2006 races for the U.S. House and Senate.

Donors’ motives vary. They might be trying to gain an edge in business, or access to powerful officials. Some win perquisites, such as ambassadorships. Many are ideologues whose passions run high on the war or healthcare or taxes.

Federal law restricts donors from giving more than $4,600 directly to a single candidate in a year. But many give far larger sums to independent campaign committees. Others leverage their money by organizing fundraising events.

In the past four years, Deborah Rappaport and her husband, venture capitalist Andrew Rappaport, of Woodside, have spent $5.2 million on federal politics, much of it to encourage young people to vote. They held a fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina this month, raising more than $100,000.

“The stakes are huge,” Deborah Rappaport said, describing herself as “an old lefty.”

In one of the more unusual uses of campaign money, Silicon Valley Democrats Michael and Frances Kieschnick helped fund a successful campaign in 2006 to elect Democrats as secretaries of state who will oversee balloting in five swing states -- a reaction to what some perceived as bias by Republican officials in Florida and Ohio in the 2000 and 2004 presidential vote counting.

Los Angeles-area developer Rick Caruso has a goal of raising $1 million for Romney’s bid for the Republican nomination.

“I’m on a big Republican list,” said Caruso, who has given $315,000 since 2003 to federal campaigns. “Politicians ... never lose your number.”

Californians had a significant role in the 2006 fight for control of Congress, donating $6.6 million directly to candidates in the six U.S. Senate races that tipped control to Democrats, campaign records show.

In Montana, Democrat Jon Tester ousted Republican Sen. Conrad Burns by 3,600 votes, aided in part by Richard and Marilyn Mazess of Montecito. They gave $50,000 to the independent group Campaign Money Watch, which aired a commercial ridiculing Burns for his ties to “big oil.”

Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg and other Californians donated a total of $500,000 directly to Tester. Burns collected $460,000 from such Californians as Los Angeles venture capitalist Elliott Broidy and Edward Atsinger III, of Camarillo, chief executive of Christian radio network Salem Broadcasting.

“The money -- the California and New York money -- was very important to Tester,” said political scientist Craig Wilson of Montana State University, Billings.

In addition to familiar California sources of political money -- defense, energy and aerospace companies, developers, unions, Hollywood and Silicon Valley -- the top donors include numerous lawyers, heirs and heiresses, and little-known financial, agricultural and other players scattered around the state.

(Among the big-name donors who don’t make the latest list: Hollywood mogul David Geffen and investor Ronald Burkle.)

California is widely seen as a bastion of Democrats. But its greenbacks often are shaded Republican red.

Robin Arkley, who owns a finance and real estate firm in Eureka, had a hand in upending the Democratic power structure nationally in 2004. The Republican spent $515,000 on independent campaign ads attacking then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Daschle was ousted by Republican John Thune, who raised $1.29 million from California, more than any other state -- including South Dakota, according to Political Moneyline.

For the 2006 election, Steven B. Taylor, a retired farmer from Salinas, his wife and their three adult children spent heavily on the GOP.

One of the Taylors’ sons, Christian, plays football for UCLA. He donated $45,000, much of it to such Republicans as Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Altogether, the Taylor family gave Santorum $14,700.

There was one exception to the Taylors’ Republican ways. They gave $20,000 to the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pa., including $9,000 from Christian. The goal: to help a Green Party candidate take votes from Robert P. Casey Jr., the Democrat challenging Santorum. The strategy failed and Casey unseated Santorum.

The Taylors did not return calls.

In addition to directly raising millions for President Bush, the state’s Republicans have funded Progress for America, a group based in Washington that has countered the liberal MoveOn.org. In 2005, it aired television ads urging senators to confirm John G. Roberts Jr. for the Supreme Court. It also has run ads supporting the war in Iraq.

A. Jerrold Perenchio, chairman of Univision, the Spanish-language television network, has given the group nearly $10 million since 2003. Stockton developer Alex G. Spanos gave another $5 million, as did Los Angeles billionaire Roland E. Arnall and his wife, Dawn. Caruso chipped in $100,000 to help Roberts, now chief justice.

Bush has bestowed ambassadorships on five Californians, including Los Angeles car dealer Robert H. Tuttle, United Kingdom; Orange County investor George Argyros, formerly to Spain; Los Angeles venture capitalist Ronald Spogli, Italy; and investor Frank Baxter, Uruguay. Combined, they have given $1.6 million to the GOP since 2000, including donations to Bush’s inaugurals.

The fifth, Arnall, is the biggest donor-ambassador. He represents U.S. interests in the Netherlands. Since 2004, Roland and Dawn Arnall have given $5.5 million primarily to Republican candidates and organizations, and another $1 million to Bush’s 2005 inaugural. Arnall owns home mortgage lender Ameriquest Capital Corp.

Los Angeles movie producer Stephen L. Bing was the state’s largest single donor, with nearly $14.2 million, to federal campaigns during the past four years, most of it to Democrats. Bing, who declines interviews, spent another $49 million on a failed California initiative in 2006 to boost alternative energy. He likely will support Clinton’s candidacy.

Clinton has taken $7.7 million from here for her U.S. Senate campaigns, second only to the $26.5 million she has raised in her home base.

After Illinois, California has been the second largest source of money for Obama, Federal Election Commission records show.

Sacramento Democrat Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis and her father, Angelo Tsakopoulos, have helped organize events for many Democrats, but are “Hillary people all the way.”

“We want to see the White House restored to competent hands,” she said.

She explained her family’s political involvement by telling her father’s story.

He came here at age 15 from Greece with nothing, made a fortune as a developer and hosted a president, Bill Clinton, at his home. Tsakopoulos never could have attained such success in the old country.

These days, Democratic politicians all come courting.

“Everybody calls and we love it,” she said. “What an incredible honor and privilege.”

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Dan.morain@latimes.com

Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Top 20 organizational donors

California corporations, labor unions and organizations include some of the biggest national donors to federal campaigns. Federal law bars corporations and unions from giving directly to candidates. But their executives and employees are free to make donations. Here is a list of the top 20 donors by organization.

*--* Donor Industry Total (millions) Party preference Service Employees Internationa Labor $4.83 Democrat l Union Northrop Aerospace 3.19 Leans Rep Grumman Sierra Club Environment 3.10 Democrat Lerach, Attorney-Plaintiffs 2.09 Democrat Coughlin et al Time Warner Entertainment 2.05 Democrat American Academy of Health Care 1.98 Leans Rep Ophthalmolog y Cisco Systems Technology 1.64 Bipartisan Kleiner, Finance 1.46 Leans Dem Perkins et al Edison Energy 1.24 Leans Rep Internationa l TCW Group Finance 1.23 Republican SAIC Defense 1.22 Leans Rep Morongo Band Native American of Mission issues; casinos 1.16 Bipartisan Indians Chevron Corp Energy 1.13 Republican Allianz Insurance 1.11 Republican General Defense 1.09 Leans Rep Atomics Jacobs Engineers 1.09 Bipartisan Engineering Group Kazan, Attorney-Plaintiffs 0.98 Democrat McClain et al Intuit Technology 0.93 Bipartisan Occidental Energy 0.93 Leans Rep Petroleum Capital Finance 0.92 Bipartisan Group Cos

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Democrat or Republican means at least 80% donated to one party or affiliated candidate or interest group; leans means 60% or more to one party; bipartisan means 40% to 60% to each party. Donations from companies based elsewhere came from California branch.

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, Times research, federal election records. Graphics reporting by Dan Morain

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Top 20 individual contributors

California is like a magnet to candidates nationally. From 2003 to 2006, Californians donated at least $502 million to federal candidates and national political parties, and to independent campaign groups known as 527s. The top 20 donors are spread from Eureka to

San Diego:

*--* Amount Party Name City Industry (in millions) preference Stephen Bing Los Angeles Real estate $14.18 Dem. heir, film prod Herbert&Mar; Oakland Finance; 13.85 Dem. ion Sandler retired A. Jerrold Los Angeles Univision 9.94 Rep. Perenchio chairman Roland and Los Angeles Ameriquest; Dawn Arnall ambassador 5.52 Rep. to Netherlands Alexander Stockton SD Chargers, 5.48 Rep. G./Faye deve Spanos Deborah/And Portola Valley Venture 5.19 Dem. rew capital Rappaport Ted Waitt San Diego Gateway co-founder, Avalon 5.06 Dem. Capital Anne Getty Corona del Mar Getty heiress 1.63 Dem. Earhart Susie/Mark San Francisco Found Esprit 1.60 Dem. Buell clothing Angelo Sacramento Real estate 1.25 Dem. Tsakopoulos Louise Gund Berkeley Philanthropi 1.24 Dem. st Marcia l. Los Angeles Entertainment 1.24 Dem. Carsey Robin, Cherie, Allison, Elizabeth Eureka Finance, 1.23 Rep. Arkley real estate Peter S. Los Angeles Investments, Bing father of 1.09 Dem. Stephen Wayne B. Glendale Public 1.07 Rep. Hughes Storage Inc. Michael/Fra Palo Alto Fin.,philant 1.07 Dem. nces hropy Kieschnick William/Wil Newport Beach Developer 0.99 Rep. la Dean Lyon Richard/Sha Los Angeles Entertainment 0.96 Dem. ri Foos Stewart/Lyn Los Angeles Finance, ag. 0.90 Dem. da Resnick M. Quinn and Wayne Jordan Oakland Philanthropy 0.67 Dem. Delaney , real estate

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In some cases, immediate family members also donated

Sources: Center for Responsive Politics, Times research, federal election records. Graphics reporting by Dan Morain


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