BY JIM MILLER AND BEN GOAD
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Published: 27 April 2012 03:01 PM
Candidates for Inland Southern California congressional and legislative contests on the June ballot have raised more than $9.4 million, with four-fifths of the money originating from outside the districts they seek to represent.
Every state is represented in the Inland money rush. The amount eclipses what had been raised at this point two years ago and will continue to swell throughout the election cycle. Independent expenditure groups, which are not covered by candidate contribution limits, will inject millions more into the region’s races in the weeks and months ahead.
Some donors come from a candidate’s home area and have long relationships. Others share philosophies with their candidates of choice, such as unions giving to Democrats and Republican Party committees giving to Republican candidates.
In other cases, particularly for donations from political action committees representing different business interests, there is no obvious ideological link to a contribution. That money is meant to ensure goodwill and access to incumbents or the likely winner in an open seat, say campaign-finance watchdogs.
“That’s the name of the game in Sacramento and D.C: If you want somebody’s attention, you go to their fundraiser,” said Derek Cressman, the western states regional director for Common Cause, a good-government group. “It’s not that it’s hard to raise money in someone’s district. It just that it’s so much easier to raise money in the capitals.”
Contribution data for Inland candidates bear that out. The average in-district contribution for a legislative candidate was about $670 and for a congressional candidate, $870. The average out-of-district contribution for a legislative candidate was $1,200 and for a congressional candidate, $1,100.
Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, said the lingering effects of the economic downturn in Inland Southern California have made it much harder to raise money locally for his campaign for Riverside County’s 31st Senate District.
More than 90 percent of itemized contributions to his campaign have come from outside the district. Miller, though, rejected the idea that out-of-district money influences how election winners go about their jobs.
“I’ve heard that argument for a lot of years. But for me, it just doesn’t play out,” he said. “You have to have the money to do the mail to get your message out. And if your message doesn’t resonate with the voters, you won’t get elected.”
Riverside attorney Richard Roth, one of two Democrats seeking the district, has received about one-third of his money from district donors, many of them legal colleagues.
Roth echoed Miller in saying that constituents, not far-off donors, will determine what he does if he joins the Senate. “Those are the people I’ll be listening to, responsive to, and I’m sure will hold me accountable should I win,” he said.
In the 2012 election cycle, California-based federal committees have raised almost $150 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. California Assembly and Senate campaigns have raised about $100 million, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Candidates’ sources of money regularly become a campaign issue. Some Inland candidates who have received a larger share of their campaign cash from donors in the district point to that as evidence that they are closer, and more responsive, to the people they seek to represent.
“I just think it’s an indication of the credibility of a candidate when you’re able to get people locally to support you,” said state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, whose main rival in June is Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, in San Bernardino County’s redrawn 31st Congressional District.
Gary Miller has heavily outraised Dutton since January. Yet only 1 percent of Miller’s donations have come from inside the district — one $2,000 contribution — since he announced his candidacy in early January, and only 3 percent during the election cycle. About a third of Dutton’s money has come from donors in the 31st.
Miller has represented an Orange County-centered seat for the past decade. Last year’s redistricting process, though, put him in a district with another incumbent. After Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, said he would retire, Miller announced plans to move to Rancho Cucamonga and run in the 31st.
His work as a lawmaker involved in federal issues has earned him supporters far beyond the boundaries of any one district, said Chris Marsh, Miller’s campaign manager.
“As a member of Congress, Gary sets national policy which affects all Americans, including those within his district,” Marsh said. “He has been fortunate, as a conservative leader, to receive support from people across the country that support his commitment to free enterprise and economic growth.”
In “The New Gold Rush,” a 1985 report to the California Commission on Campaign Financing, researchers found that 92 percent of the money for legislative campaigns came from outside a candidate’s district.
“California legislators and legislative candidates have now acquired two almost completely separate constituencies: the residents of their districts who vote for them, and the out-of-district contributors who pay for the costs of their campaigns,” it read.
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