Carla Marinucci

Carla Marinucci
Updated 10:58 p.m., Sunday, June 24, 2012

With the California Republican Party’s registration declining, its prospects dim and major donors panicked, two powerhouse GOP fundraisers have boldly sidestepped the party and launched an independent state super PAC to raise millions in unlimited contributions aimed at electing business-friendly candidates to the state Legislature this year.

The aggressive new independent expenditure effort, called California Now, is organized by Jeff Miller, who raised $60 million as the former finance chairman of the state GOP, and Sacramento political strategist Tony Russo.

Their goal, sources say, is a new “center-right” fundraising effort to ensure that Republicans in November keep their tenuous hold on one-third of the seats in the state Senate and Assembly – the minimum needed to block the passage of new taxes.

Surprisingly, the fundraising drive by the Republicans will also support moderate Democrats in a handful of Democrat versus Democrat races this fall, sources said.

Miller and Russo aim to raise $7 million to $9 million in unlimited contributions in their independent expenditure committee, and at least $1 million more with a companion “issue advocacy” effort – called a 501(c)4 committee – that can raise unlimited and unreported contributions from individuals and corporations, insiders familiar with the effort say.

Crisis of confidence

The fundraising drive coincides with what some leading party observers say is a crisis of confidence among major donors and business interests over the management of the California GOP.

“One of the realities of California politics, and chief driver of dysfunction in California government, is the fact that the California Republican Party has collapsed,” said leading GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, the former senior adviser to the presidential team of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

“California is the No. 1 richest state for politics in America – but the donor community here has defunded” the state GOP, Schmidt said. “It’s an unworthy and unsafe investment.”

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