‘Super PAC’ money pours into Inland Empire congressional race

The battle for a San Bernardino County congressional seat has become a magnet for outside “super PAC” dollars.

The June 5 primary election that pits Republican Rep. Gary G. Miller of Diamond Bar against Republican state Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga has received close to $1 million in outside money, the most of any congressional race in the nation.

By far, the greatest beneficiary has been Miller, who was elected to Congress in 1998 after making a fortune in home building. The National Assn. of Realtors has spent $709,000 to support his campaign, with the bulk of the money paying for television ads and mailers to voters as well as a local poll.

The outside cash adds to Miller’s substantial financial advantage in the contest for California’s 31st Congressional District, which stretches from Redlands to Upland. Miller started the campaign with a war chest of $1.07 million, while Dutton had to start raising money from scratch.

Dutton, a real estate investor first elected to the statehouse in 2002, has attacked Miller for living in Los Angeles County and questioned the political motives of the outside groups in contributing money.

“It’s the million-dollar question: What do they expect in return?” asked Dutton campaign manager Clint Lorimore. “We can only guess about that.”

Dutton received backing from an independent political committee called Inland Empire Taxpayers for Jobs, organized in part by former Assembly Republican leader Bill Leonard. The organization has spent $50,000 to support Dutton.

A spokeswoman for the Realtors said only that the association was backing Miller because of his strong support for homeownership and private property rights.

“Rep. Miller has been a great supporter of Realtors and homeownership over the years and has a strong voting record on real estate issues,” Sara Wiskerchen said in a statement.

Miller’s campaign spokesman said the congressman had no control over the independent political expenditures. But Miller makes no apologies for his strong support for the housing industry.

“It’s an area hard hit by recession. One of the ways we can affect that is by job creation, by kick-starting the home-building market in San Bernardino County,” said spokesman Chris Marsh, adding that the congressman now lives in Rancho Cucamonga.

Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, a Democrat in the race, is being supported by a Sacramento-based political action committee called Restoring Our Community, which has put $153,000 into an independent effort backing him, campaign finance reports show. Gustavo Arroyo, whom federal election records list as a political consultant for the organization, declined to comment when asked about the committee.