California a rich state for Obama

Morain and Moore are Times staff writers.

California, the ATM for politicians nationwide, has spit out cash for Barack Obama at an extraordinary clip. One of every five dollars he has raised in itemized contributions to his campaign has come from the Golden State.

At last count, in mid-October, the Democratic presidential nominee had withdrawn $84 million from California, or 20% of his contributions of more than $200 -- the threshold at which campaigns must disclose detailed information about donors.

The $84 million was two-thirds more than Obama collected from the next most generous state, New York. It also exceeds the $83.7 million raised in California for all federal races a decade ago, when the state emerged as the richest source of campaign money.

John McCain got far less from California, a state that is expected today to vote heavily for Obama. The Republican nominee raised $25 million.

A Times analysis of California's role in bankrolling federal elections also found that the state has contributed a larger slice of the campaign accounts for the major party candidates than in 2004. Obama's take, one-fifth of his itemized contributions, was up from John F. Kerry's 17%. McCain's California contribution was 12%, higher than George W. Bush's 10%.

Federal Election Commission records show that Californians have provided 13% of the $2.6 billion in itemized donations raised by candidates for president and Congress and by the two major parties. Millions have been sent to hopefuls nationwide, notably Democrats seeking U.S. Senate seats, including Al Franken in Minnesota, Mark Udall in Colorado and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

Californians have also sent $33 million to independent campaign groups.

But nowhere has the state's impact been more apparent than in the presidential race.

About 126,000 Californians made donations to Obama and McCain. Most of the money has come from people who list their occupation as self-employed, retiree, student or homemaker.

Obama tapped employees of Silicon Valley companies, Hollywood studios, law firms, universities, state and local governments, and many others.

Among employers, Obama's single largest source was the University of California, with professors and other employees contributing $1.3 million.

Among California-based companies, Google employees were Obama's richest source, at $562,241.

Nationally, Google's employees almost tied Microsoft's as Obama's largest source of money from a single company -- $727,000 from workers at Google and $729,000 from those at Microsoft.

McCain's donors hail from real estate, investment and law firms, and a mix of telecommunications, oil and other companies. Employees of the Irvine Co., the Orange County developer, were McCain's largest source, at $66,601.

Some of these donors have big hopes for the next administration. A few may become ambassadors; others may see their law partners become judges. Many work in industries that have major interests in Washington, D.C., and will expect access to the next administration.

Many are like William Bloomfield and Jamie Alter Lynton -- true believers.

Neither Bloomfield nor Lynton is sure how much they've raised for their respective candidates. They haven't kept track. Certainly, each raised hundreds of thousands.

Lynton, whose husband, Michael, is chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, comes from a politically active family and used to work for CNN. But until Obama came on the scene, she had never gotten so deeply involved in a campaign.

She helped put on perhaps 10 fundraisers for the Illinois senator and spent 30 hours a week volunteering for Obama, a candidate she believes is transforming politics and, she hopes, the nation's reputation in the world.

"Barack Obama asked me to do something for my country. No one had ever asked," Lynton said. "He said, 'We can do this together.' It was an immediate wake-up call. He said there is a path to make this world better, and make this country a better place."

Bloomfield is every bit as passionate for McCain. He had been a modest donor in past elections. But he had never gone all-in for a candidate, until now.

He sold his business -- he provided washing machines and dryers to apartments and colleges in the Western United States -- and moved from Manhattan Beach to Arlington, Va., where McCain has his headquarters.

Now he volunteers full time for McCain, a man he believes could be this century's Abraham Lincoln.

"That is heady stuff for someone who has been in the laundry business," Bloomfield said. He'd do it all over again, "in a heartbeat. It's the best thing I've ever done."

The scores of financial reports that the campaigns have filed with the Federal Election Commission also offer a measure of the candidates' appeal.

Obama's attraction to young voters is evident in his fundraising. He raised $820,000 from Californians who described themselves as students, to McCain's $56,000.

Besides the more than $1 million Obama raised from people who work at the state's university system, he raised $475,309 from Stanford University employees and $193,173 from USC workers. McCain raised less than $57,000 from USC, UC and Stanford employees combined.

One reason Google became a major fount of Obama money is the company's chief executive, Eric Schmidt. He is one of Obama's most energetic backers and appeared on Obama's 30-minute infomercial. Overall, Californians working for major high-tech firms accounted for $1.9 million to Obama.

Google employees gave just $12,000 to McCain. On the other hand, employees of the Irvine Co., McCain's top-dollar firm, accounted for less than $9,000 to Obama.

The Irvine Co. spent $80,000 on federal lobbying in the first three quarters of the year on issues related to housing, insurance and disaster recovery. In the past, the company battled the government over the reach of the Endangered Species Act.

Google spent more than $3.1 million lobbying Washington in the first nine months of 2008. Its issues include copyright, broadband access, energy, immigration, privacy, child pornography-related matters and others.

Obama doesn't take money directly from lobbyists. But law firms, including several with offices in California, have lobby arms in Washington and are among his biggest sources.

Attorneys and others at Wilmerhale, a nationwide law firm whose lobby arm represents Google, donated more than $361,000 to Obama, $15,000 from lawyers in California.

Hollywood is another major source of Obama's money. Californians who listed major studios as their employer gave Obama more than $1.8 million during the campaign.

His overall haul from the entertainment industry is far greater. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics counts more than $14 million nationally from the television and movie industry.

Although many celebrities who donate to Obama are driven by ideology, the industry is also a major lobby force. The Motion Picture Assn. of America has spent more than $3 million on lobbying this year. Lawyers at the association's largest outside lobby firm, Akin Gump, are major donors to Obama, giving him more than $160,000, of which $45,000 came from California.

McCain is not without support in the industry. MGM Chairman Harry Sloan has hosted two fundraisers at his home and helped raise money at two galas. Noting that polls suggested his candidate could lose today, Sloan said he doesn't believe his efforts were for naught.

If McCain loses, there will "be a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," he said. The better McCain does, the more likely the party could recast itself as more moderate.

"McCain and what he stands for is the Republican Party that I want to support," Sloan said. "It's the tolerant party with the big tent. There is another side of the party that I haven't been as comfortable in."

For the most part, California's green is tinted deeply Democratic blue.

"The country has been going in the wrong direction for the last eight years," said Steve Westly, the former state controller and eBay executive who ran for governor in 2006.

A co-chairman of Obama's campaign, Westly has co-hosted numerous events for the Democratic ticket, including one recently for vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. "Watching Sen. Obama, there is just something different."


Times staff writer Doug Smith and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.

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