BY JIM MILLER AND BEN GOAD
STAFF WRITERS
jmiller@pe.com | bgoad@pe.com

Published: 19 May 2012 06:16 PM

Fueled by new political boundaries and court rulings, campaign committees representing special interests have revved up spending this election cycle, and much of that largesse is focused on Inland Southern California candidates.

Independent expenditures committees, known nationally as super-PACs, have been a fixture of legislative and statewide elections in California since 2001. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision brought the same type of unlimited spending to federal contests, from president to Congress.

While state and federal law sets limits on contributions to candidates, super-PACs are allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money through independent expenditures. Super-PACs are prohibited from coordinating their efforts with candidates or their campaigns.

As of Friday, May 18, independent groups’ spending this year in California congressional and state contests totals at least $5.5 million, according to government filings. That’s on top of millions of dollars that state and federal candidates have poured into races from their own campaign coffers.

Last year’s redistricting process created several competitive congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts in the region that are drawing big money from special interests.

Through mid-Friday, San Bernardino County’s 31st Congressional District had more than $818,000 in super-PAC spending, the most of any House race in the nation in the regular 2012 election cycle, according to federal records.

The spending was dominated by the National Association of Realtors, which has shelled out more than $709,000 to support the candidacy of Rep. Gary Miller. The money went for polling, consulting, mailers and advertising.

Scott Reiter, the group’s political director, pointed to Miller’s background in real estate and development and record as an advocate for housing in Congress, where he serves on the Financial Services Committee and has worked to protect the mortgage interest tax deduction and tax credits for homebuyers.

“He’s a longtime supporter of homeownership, and he’s got a tough race so we wanted to help,” Reiter said.

Miller, R-Diamond Bar, is running in a new district representing much of the San Bernardino Valley. The five other candidates include state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, a Democrat.

With at least three serious candidates competing for two spots in the general election, Reiter said the group, which usually focuses on November, thought it best to help Miller in his primary race. The fact that the group’s spending put the 31st above the other 434 congressional districts in terms of outside money is probably just a temporary situation, he said.

“I just think it’s a matter of timing,” Reiter said. “I would suspect you’ll be seeing a lot more from other groups very shortly.”

Other independent groups have spent money to help Dutton and Aguilar.

“Me and some friends of Bob Dutton wanted to help out … beyond what the law says we can give directly to candidates,” said former Inland lawmaker Bill Leonard, who helped organize the pro-Dutton Inland Empire Taxpayers for Jobs.

The group has spent about $50,000, records show. The money has come from several Inland donors, including Dutton’s father, Ted.

Leonard said the super-PAC was conceived as a way to help Dutton hold his own against Miller, a seven-term incumbent whose campaign committee had $1.2 million in cash on hand as of March 30.

“That was our hope and expectation a few months ago. But I didn’t expect the large amounts of Washington-interest money coming in. We’re kind of being swamped,” he said.

A super-PAC called Restoring Our Community has given more than $60,000 to Aguilar’s campaign. The identities of the donors have not been reported.

The only super-PAC spending on Inland congressional races outside the 31st took place in the High Desert’s 8th Congressional District, where the Jobs Opportunity and Freedom Political Action Committee has spent more than $30,000 on behalf of San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, a Republican.

SENATE CONTEST

In Riverside County, a vaguely named independent expenditure committee with unclear sources of money has injected itself into the 31st Senate District race.

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