Super PAC cash: Fed release shows California Dollars fill presidential candidate coffers

By Jessica Philipps

WASHINGTON — DreamWorks co-founders Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg are among the affluent Californians taking advantage of new campaign rules that allow them to donate unlimited amounts to assist President Barack Obama’s re-election.

On the Republican side, former Univision CEO Jerry Perenchio has donated $2 million to elect Republicans and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has been a financial savior to presidential candidate Ron Paul with a $900,000 donation.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom donated $500 to a committee supporting late-night comedian Stephen Colbert.

The notable names are among thousands of California donors revealed this month by the Federal Election Commission in its financial disclosure report for 2011, which for the first time includes multimillion-dollar contributions.

President Obama raised $13.7 million in California last year, the figures show, more than all of his Republican challengers combined. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the closest competitor, having raised $6.6 million.
Romney was the top fundraiser in Fairfield, raising $9,000.

The rest of the Republican field raised considerably less in the state. Paul raised just under $1.5 million, Newt Gingrich raised $661,000 and Rick Santorum reported $62,000.
Fairfield residents contributed more to Romney than all donations to Gingrich, Paul and Santorum combined. Obama came in second to Romney, with roughly $7,000 in contributions from Fairfield residents.

Statewide, Obama’s donors range from Hollywood stars Will Smith and George Clooney to Silicon Valley moguls Eric Schmidt, president of Google, and Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist.

“California is home to one of the strongest progressive networks in country,” said Bill Burton, former White House staffer and co-founder of Obama’s PAC Priorities USA. “We have spent a lot of time there and we will be spending a lot of time there.”

Obama will visit California to raise money next week.

Romney’s contributors, though less widely known, include powerful executives of large banks and real estate companies, including strong support from his former employer, Bain Capital, whose top executives have donated at least $50,000.

The $26 million in direct contributions to the candidates’ campaigns was supplemented by an additional $12 million in contributions to the political action committees supporting the candidates.

As the result of several recent Supreme Court decisions, donors can give unlimited sums to such committees, known as super PACs, so long as the PACs remain independent from, and do not coordinate with the candidate.

“Having a lot of money has been electorally important forever,” said Gary Jacobson, political science professor at the UC San Diego. “The same kinds of interests that were investing in the past are investing now. They are just investing more.”

While donors who contribute directly to presidential campaigns are limited to $5,000 — $2,500 for the primary campaign and $2,500 for the general election — the average California donation to a presidential super PAC was more than $27,000. The reports do not disclose the identity of all PAC contributors. Nonprofit organizations like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, are not required to reveal the identity of their donors.

Nevertheless, the contribution report reveals:

Dream Works’ Katzenberg donated $2 million to Obama’s PAC in 2011, the single largest donation to the president. Spielberg contributed $100,000. In all, 14 Californians accounted for half of the PAC’s nationwide total.

Romney’s PAC received $2.3 million from California’s private equity sector, including $200,000 from Richard Boyce, a former Bain Capital partner, and $100,000 from Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel donated $900,000 of the $1 million raised nationally by Paul’s PAC, Endorse Liberty.

Los Angeles philanthropist David Segel donated $15,000 to Santorum’s PAC, and Segel’s company Arrabon Management Services donated another $15,000.

Colbert’s PAC raised $20,000 in California, 10 times more than Gingrich’s PAC.

Candidates typically rely on California donations even if the bulk of the money is spent elsewhere in competitive swing states.

The 2012 presidential campaign is expected to be the most expensive in history. While candidates, including the president, have made numerous fundraising trips west, California’s role is likely to rise as the June 5 primary and general election approaches.

So far, the overwhelming majority of Obama’s money comes from the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Romney and Gingrich also draw financial support from conservative areas closer to San Diego.

Hollywood’s fondness for Obama is evident in the listings from several exclusive Los Angeles-area ZIP codes. Donors include record producer Quincy Jones and director
Quentin Tarantino, as well as actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell.

Romney raised large sums in Orange and northern San Diego counties, receiving more than $1 million from donors in Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Jolla and Mission Viejo.

The same area provided Gingrich with his largest totals; however, his contributions — only $128,000 — are substantially less than Romney’s.

Paul, who raised more than $1 million in California, has a more geographically diverse base of donors. Santorum received only a single donation of $250 in San Francisco.

Obama’s substantial fundraising advantage in California is consistent with the 2008 presidential election, when he raised $77.7 million in the state, more than three times that of Sen. John McCain, his GOP counterpart.

Each candidate is counting on more California dollars in the coming months as the state’s June 5 primary draws near.
 Obama is planning a trip to California next week where he will hold a breakfast fundraiser Thursday in Corona Del Mar. Tickets to the event, held at the home of Jeff and Nancy Start, start at $10,000.

“Both parties are going to have plenty of money to make their case, it makes a big difference in primary elections,” Jacobson said. “You have to buy attention. If you can’t, you can’t compete.”

Yousur Alhlou contributed to this report. The California News Service is a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Email the California News Service at

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