Campaign contributions are flowing briskly to candidates in some of California’s hottest congressional races, including two of the most vocal proponents of getting money out of politics.
Incumbents in races in the Sacramento area, Central Valley, Bay Area and Riverside and Ventura counties each have raised more than $1 million to fend off vigorous challengers.
And in San Diego County, freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters and his main opponent, Republican Carl DeMaio, were nearly neck and neck, with Peters taking in nearly $1.8 million to DeMaio’s almost $1.5 million.
Candidates and their operatives were busy scrutinizing their rivals’ financial disclosures Wednesday, hours after the midnight Tuesday filing deadline at the Federal Election Commission.
Peters’ campaign pounced on a $2,500 contribution to DeMaio from a Koch Industries Inc. political action committee, saying in a fundraising email that it upends DeMaio’s claim of being a moderate.
Billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — conservatives who were early backers of the small-government tea party movement in the GOP — have become a favorite target of Democrats in this year’s campaign.
“Scott Peters has embraced the hypocrisy and double standards of Washington politics,” Dave McCulloch, spokesman for the DeMaio campaign, responded in an email to The Times. “Scott Peters is just desperate to distract voters from the millions in big business and special interest money he has taken.”
Peters’ campaign spokeswoman MaryAnne Pintar retorted: “The Kochs bankroll the tea party, and they’re bankrolling Carl DeMaio because he shares their extremist values.”
The race is emerging as one of the nation’s most expensive House contests this year. Another sure-to-be-costly race is the one to succeed Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). His Jan. 30 retirement announcement unleashed a crush of candidates for his coastal-Westside 33rd Congressional District seat.
Former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a contestant in that race, reported raising $672,214 — less than the $964,385 collected by no-party-preference candidate Marianne Williamson. The spiritual teacher and bestselling author began raising money when she jumped into the race last fall.
Defense attorney and first-time candidate David Kanuth, a Democrat, also outraised Greuel, reporting $798,453 in contributions by the March 31 end of the accounting period.
But Greuel collected more than other prominent Democrats in the race: state Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance, who raised $566,762, and author and radio talk show host Matt Miller, who took in $517,822. Businessman James Graf, also a Democrat, reported lending his campaign $1 million but spent little and does not appear to have done much campaigning.
Greuel’s strategists picked apart the reports and issued their own detailed spin on the fundraising race, parsing debts and expenditures and calculating how much of each main candidate’s take could be spent in the primary.
Because of limits on how much donors can contribute toward a given election, excess funds are set aside for possible use in the fall by any candidate who finishes first or second in the June 3 primary.
Greuel’s campaign calculated that her main rivals all had significant amounts that they could not use in the primary, while she had the smallest amount ($10,400) of contributions that must be saved for a fall campaign.
Williamson and Miller both have made overhauling the nation’s campaign finance system a central theme of their congressional bids. But both have acknowledged needing to raise money to be viable candidates. Once elected, they say, they can change the laws governing money and politics.
All of Williamson’s listed contributions came from individuals, including entertainer Nancy Sinatra, who gave $1,100, and Leslie Sword of Naples, Fla., who gave $2,600 — the maximum allowed. Sword gave her occupation as “joy seeker.”
Williamson’s contributions ranged from $10 and $50 to the limit, and some donors also gave money that could be used only for a fall campaign.
The vast majority of Miller’s contributions also are from individuals. And the day before Tuesday’s filing deadline, he released a proposal for revising campaign finance rules. His proposals include barring lawmakers from taking contributions from industries they regulate and strengthening disclosure rules.
Significant campaign finance overhaul has proved to be a tough sell in Congress.
Prodigious fundraising was reported in other races as well. Among the candidates who have collected the most are Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), with just over $2 million, and Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-San Jose). Honda has raised $1.9 million but faces a challenger from his own party, former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, who took in much more: $3.67 million.
Khanna reported $1.9 million in cash on hand, compared with Honda’s slightly more than $1 million.
In an Inland Empire race to succeed Rep. Gary G. Miller (R-Rancho Cucamonga), Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar and Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, both Democrats, led in fundraising among the four Democrats and three Republicans who are running.
Aguilar raised $910,730 and had $683,236 in the bank. Reyes collected $710,503 and reported $534,824 in the bank.
Others in hot races who have raised at least $1 million are incumbent Reps. David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village).
Merl reported from Los Angeles and Simon from Washington.