Why Are Past GOP Donors Backing Jerry Brown Now?
By Seema Mehta
With Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California expected to romp to re-election this year against little-known rivals, many donors who gave Republican candidates more than $37 million in the last gubernatorial contest are now keeping their hands in their pockets.
But those who are writing checks are largely giving them to ... Jerry Brown.
The governor has received nearly $2 million, a Los Angeles Times analysis of campaign reports found, from donors who fueled Meg Whitman's and Steve Poizner's Republican gubernatorial bids in 2010. That's more than three times as much as his current GOP rivals have received from these donors.
Allstate Insurance Co., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the California Restaurant Association PAC and the California Refuse Recycling Council PAC are among those that delivered five-figure checks to Poizner or Whitman the last time around.
But they have stiffed this year's main GOP contenders, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, even as they have each sent tens of thousands of dollars to Brown.
Several contributors had been impressed by Brown's performance, saying he turned a gaping state budget deficit into a surplus that allows for deposits into a rainy-day fund.
"The state needed a lot of work in the last few years, and Gov. Brown has been the adult in the room," said Lucy Dunn, an Orange County business executive and registered Republican.
Dunn, who worked in Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration and was a volunteer for Whitman in 2010, has given $500 to Brown's re-election bid, although she had given Whitman $3,000 more.
"There's a lot of things that certainly I don't agree with, but ... the reality is he has delivered on his promises" about tax and business policy, Dunn said.
The dynamics of the two contests are vastly different. In 2010, Schwarzenegger was leaving office, and the race was wide open. Whitman, a billionaire, and Poizner, a multimillionaire, poured many millions of their own wealth into their campaigns.
Whitman prevailed in the primary, and Brown ultimately beat her decisively. But it was a competitive race, leading many major donors _ businesses, Native American tribes, other interests _ to give to both, hedging their bets and avoiding any slight to the future governor.
This year's low-key contest has not prompted the same outpouring, and many who gave on both sides of the aisle last time have now given only to Brown.
Sempra Energy, the San Diego natural gas company, gave Whitman $51,800 and Brown $32,400 in 2010. For this year's contest, the company has cut two checks totaling $26,000, both addressed to Brown.
"He has done an effective job in helping California regain some of its financial footing and understands the importance of fiscal prudence," said Sempra spokesman Art Larson. "While we do not always agree, he is open to differing points of view as policies are being developed."
Donors who gave to Brown and Whitman in 2010 also reported having long-standing relationships with each. Brown has held elected office for nearly 30 years, and Whitman, former chief executive of San Jose's eBay, was widely known in business circles.
The contributors don't have such ties to Kashkari and Donnelly. Billionaire Eli Broad, a Democrat, gave $25,900 to Whitman and $25,000 to Brown in 2010.
"It was a result of personal relationships, not only with Jerry Brown, who I've known for a long time, but I've also known Meg Whitman," Broad said.
"But I'm very happy, I'm not contributing to anyone else than Jerry Brown" this year, he added, noting he had donated the legal maximum _ $54,400 _ to the governor's re-election effort.
Kashkari is the Republican establishment's choice in the race, endorsed by such party luminaries as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
And Kashkari has been the second-biggest beneficiary of Whitman's and Poizner's erstwhile supporters, taking in $591,155 from those sources, who gave Donnelly $30,643.
Some of Kashkari's donations come from acquaintances in the financial sector _ his old boss Henry Paulson, former U.S. Treasury secretary, for example _ or contacts among Indian Americans. He has also attracted the support of some longtime GOP donors such as Frank Baxter, who served as an ambassador in the Bush administration but didn't meet the candidate until he began exploring a run in 2013.
"My donations speak for themselves," said Baxter, who had given Whitman $51,800 and Brown $5,000 in 2010, and gave Kashkari $10,000 for this year's contest.
Donnelly has always said he would run a nontraditional campaign, focusing on grass-roots efforts rather than raising large sums. He has raised $754,724, largely from small-dollar donors.
"Every one of you can do something," Donnelly told a GOP meeting in Northern California earlier this year. "If all you can give me is $3 in quarters, I want your name and email."
California's wealthy donors are typically an ATM for politicians on both sides of the aisle. But many who traditionally give to Republicans have so far sat this year out.
GOP candidates have fared poorly in state elections and federal contests in recent years, and many donors, along with other party members, are worried about the viability of the Republican field. Kashkari has been aggressively courting longtime GOP contributors, meeting with 800 of them, he said, before officially announcing his bid in January. He had hoped they would give him as much as $10 million, but that support never materialized.
"I have a better chance of being pope than he has of being governor," said Mark Chapin Johnson, a major Republican donor who has spurned Kashkari's requests for money.
The candidate blamed donor fatigue after the years of losses, including Whitman's unsuccessful run, on which she spent a record $178.5 million _ $144 million of it her own.
"A lot of people feel ... if she couldn't be competitive with Jerry Brown ... how can anyone compete with him in 2014?" Kashkari said. "I've been in meetings where they say, 'Oh, you're crazy for trying this, no one can ever win.'
"I say, 'Listen, if I have a choice of being delusional or being hopeless like you, I'll be delusional.' "
Kashkari, who has said he is worth less than $5 million, initially said he didn't have enough money to make a difference in the race. But in recent weeks, he has pumped $2 million into his campaign, matching the amount he has raised.
Donors who are demurring in the primary could decide to pony up for a GOP candidate before the November election.
(Maloy Moore and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.)
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