O.C. is a candidate ATM

Buck Johns, president of the hybrid energy company Inland Energy, makes campaign donations like some people bet on horses. He’s given $2,300 to Mike Huckabee, $4,600 to Rudy Giuliani, $2,300 to Fred Thompson and $4,400 to Mitt Romney, according to federal records.

“As opposed to other years, when one would come out on top and he would come through the area pretty much only to pick up some money because he knew he didn’t have a chance of winning here, this year Orange County can actually make a difference,” Johns said. “We’ve gotten a lot of play this year.”

Johns still can’t decide which Republican candidate he likes best — he’s good friends with Huckabee, he’s impressed with the job Romney did overseeing the 2002 Winter Olympics and the private equity firm Bain Capital, but he said John McCain has the most experience.

Johns is just one of many influential Orange County donors. The area has deep pockets for presidential candidates. Orange County raised about $9.8 million in campaign donations from individuals to federal candidates, PACs and parties from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Romney alone has raised more than $1.2 million in Orange County, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Election Commission. Rudy Giuliani has raised more than $1 million.

“There’s no place outside of Washington D.C. where you see presidential candidates having as many presidential fundraisers,” said George Andrews, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County.

“Historically, Orange County is known as the most Republican county in the country. A lot of candidates have jump-started their campaigns through Orange County.”

The area raises big bucks for Democrats too, local Democratic officials said.

“California has always been known as the presidential ATM, and Orange County is a big part of that ATM,” said Melahat Rafiei, executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County.

While Orange County is known nationally for its generous Republican donors, Democrats do well too, Rafiei said.

Barack Obama has raised about $250,000 in Orange County, and Hillary Clinton has raised more than $500,000, Rafiei said.

Locally, Huntington Beach resident and Republican Party of Orange County Chairman Scott Baugh donated $4,600 to Romney last year, Federal Election Commission records show — the maximum an individual can give one candidate per election under federal law.

It seems Romney has a large fan base in Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach resident John Dwyer, president of John Dwyer construction and his wife, Linda, both gave Romney $2,300, records show.

Charles Hanlon, president of the Huntington Beach-based investment advisor service Delta Global Advisors, gave $4,600 to Giuliani last year, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Wealthy donors often encourage their friends to give after making a donation, Johns said.

“Once you give a large donation, you have something invested in that candidate,” he said.