Essential Politics: Bush coming to Brentwood to mingle with former ambassadors


I’m Christina Bellantoni, the Essential Politics host today as the presidential campaign kicks off in earnest.

By this time in 2007, Chris Dodd’s children had settled into school after being moved temporarily to the Hawkeye State, ahead of the early January caucuses from which the Democratic senator was hoping to emerge.

In 2011, Rick Santorum had campaigned in all of Iowa’s 99 counties (the former Republican senator already has crossed that threshold this time around, although he still remains at the bottom of the pack).

That’s all because the last month of the year serves as a major push that often separates the winners from the losers. Iowans have nine weeks before they will set a course that could have long-lasting implications on the overall presidential contest. (Mark Z. Barabak has more on that point here.)

Washington bureau chief David Lauter offered his take on the landscape as it stands ahead of the crucial early nominating contests in our pre-Thanksgiving newsletter. Will Sen. Ted Cruz continue to rise and win over Iowa’s churchgoing caucus attendees? Can Donald Trump maintain his edge? Does Sen. Bernie Sanders have a chance at toppling frontrunner Hillary Clinton in either of the first two nominating states? These are just some of the questions we’ll be attempting to answer for readers in the coming weeks.

There are 16 days until the GOP candidates next meet on a debate stage, and 20 days until the next Democratic faceoff.

As Congress prepares to return for its own final stretch before the end-of-the-year break, Sarah Wire rounded up California’s 55-member delegation to track their presidential endorsements. The results might surprise you — some Republicans and Democrats in the largest delegation remain up for grabs. Read her story and see the list.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has the most congressional backers, and continues to return to California to fundraise. He’ll hit Brentwood and Pasadena the day after the debate in Las Vegas, according to an invitation to a Dec. 16 luncheon and a dinner obtained by Seema Mehta.

The event sounds like a reunion of top Bush administration officials and Republicans who were prominent during that era.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and former Rep. David Dreier are listed as Southern California Finance Committee members, along with the former administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Rob Bonner, former U.S. Ambassador to Britain Bob Tuttle, former Ambassador to Uruguay Frank Baxter, former Ambassador to Austria Susan McCaw and former Ambassador to Italy and San Marino Ron Spogli. Also on the committee are Marc and Eva Stern, major education donors in Los Angeles.

Brad Freeman, a top California-based George W. Bush fundraiser, is hosting the $2,700-per-guest luncheon at his Brentwood home.

The dinner -- also $2,700 per guest -- is at the Pasadena home of Jeanine and John Cushman, a commercial real estate mogul.

In her note soliciting attendees, Renee Croce wrote last week that Bush had "a very strong week on the campaign trail."


Patrick McGreevy had a smart investigative piece on the front of Sunday’s California section detailing an analysis of ways that businesses and others with matters before the state Board of Equalization have benefited its members despite a tough law passed in 1990 to prevent conflicts of interest.

He writes that donors can bypass the contribution caps by giving through political action committees at just below the legal limit, and contributing to board members' outside projects.

He uses SpaceX to provide an example, detailing how just after the state board gave the company exemptions worth millions of dollars last year, the rocket company donated $7,500, at the request of board President Jerome Horton, to a nonprofit group founded by his wife. SpaceX made the donation as a sponsor of a public conference headlined by Horton as he was running for reelection.

The donation was made two days after the Board of Equalization approved a policy that provides a tax exemption for property including rocket parts involved in the space flight industry.

Get all the details in his story.


President Obama arrived in Paris in the dark of night ahead of today’s opening of a major climate change summit.

Obama joined French leaders to lay a white rose at the Bataclan in honor of the people slain in the attacks earlier this month.

Protesters already were clashing with authorities Sunday before things got going, Alexandra Zavis reports from Paris. Our story previewing the historic summit, and what may, or may not come out of it, is here.

Sacramento bureau chief John Myers writes that Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter ahead of the summit to the attorneys general of Texas and West Virginia, accusing them of "crass obstructionism" in their effort to raise doubts about one of Obama's key climate change initiatives. He said they were seeking to score political points in their recent attempt to cast doubt on the legality of U.S. efforts.

See the letters and the thumb drives the governor sends along with them.

We’ll be closely watching the California delegation in Paris and providing updates in this space, so stay tuned.


-- Javier Panzar reports that Rep. Norma Torres is using her personal experiences as a refugee from Guatemala as she talks about Syrian refugees in her district. The current Syrian refugees, she said, "are not the bogeyman they have been made out to be."

-- The headline says it all: "Donors gave a super PAC $6 million. Candidates actually got about $140,000." Joseph Tanfani and Maloy Moore found Ben Carson’s fundraising illustrates how effective the checks of tens of thousands of small donors, many of them of modest means, can be at enriching campaign consultants.

-- And Carson paid a surprise visit Saturday to camps in Jordan housing Syrian refugees, Nabil Bulos reports from Amman.

-- Kurtis Lee finds Donald Trump has a shaky relationship with the truth.

-- Trump called the Planned Parenthood shooter a "maniac" over the weekend.

-- Evan Halper writes from Iowa that it has become fashionable on the presidential campaign trail to declare America’s uncommonly high rate of imprisonment unacceptable, but none are offering details on how to significantly change the system.

-- George Skelton wrote in his Thursday column about the folly of prolonging the temporary tax increases that voters passed in 2012 to end years of budget crises.

-- Robin Abcarian attends a San Francisco conference exploring the intersection of cannabis, tech, media and finance, and finds it showcases the staggering amounts of money to be made, and the extraordinary range of cannabis products and businesses that will benefit once pot is fully legalized in California.

-- The Los Angele-to-San Francisco bullet train is headed for new federal and state scrutiny after disclosure that the project’s lead contractor forecast significant cost increases that were not made public, Ralph Vartabedian reports.

-- Noted: GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate Tom Palzer makes his own calls to the press to let reporters know about his candidacy.


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