By Malcolm Maclachlan | 08/19/10 12:00 AM PST

California Republicans were feeling pretty good Wednesday morning, in the wake of Sam Blakeslee’s win over John Laird in the special election in Senate District 15. But when the California Republican Party (CRP) looks at its checkbook, it may have some reasons for concern heading into the fall.

Through the first 18 months of the current two-year campaign cycle, the party shows $10.2 million raised. By contrast, the Democratic State Central Committee of California has taken in $23 million this cycle. This reverses a longstanding fundraising advantage for California Republicans.

Meanwhile, spending reports show another key difference between the parties: the CRP has more top Capitol staffers on its payroll. This includes over tens of thousands of dollars in payments to a pair of top GOP chiefs of staff. However, according to one of these men, much of this money passed through their consulting companies for voter registration and other activities.

The last six years have seen a reversal of fortunes for the two major parties in California, at least when it comes to fundraising going through the party. In the 2005-06 election cycle, the CRP outgained the Democratic Party by a wide margin, $60.1 million to $42.6 million.

That was during a gubernatorial campaign year. Both parties fell off in the 2007-08 cycle. But the gap between them also narrowed sharply in that big Democratic year, with the CRP pulling in $31.4 million compared to $28.3 million for the Democrats. The CRP shows $2.1 million cash on hand, according to the latest filings with the Secretary of State’s office, dated June 30. The Democrats are sitting on $4.8 million.

On June 2, CRP finance director Molly Parnell faxed Senate Minority Leader Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta, a report showing the party had pulled in $8.6 million for the 2009-10 cycle, and had a mere $525,725 cash on hand. The Senate leader in each party usually has a major fundraising role. In late July, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the state party’s federal campaign account was about $330,000 in the red.

These finance issues, in turn, have prompted concerns that the party may not be able to fully take advantage of what should be a good Republican year. But there are important differences between 2006 and 2010, according to Mark Standriff, chief spokesman for the CRP.

“We’re obvious going through one of the worst economic crises in history, so fundraising is going to be a challenge,” Standriff said. “The big difference there is we had a sitting Republican Governor standing for re-election [in 20006]. That’s always going to drive fundraising up.”

Another thing that has changed since then is voter registration numbers. According to figures from the Secretary of State, between May 2006 and May of this year, the California Democratic Party added 865,000 members, while the Republican party lost 160,000. This pushed Democrats’ registration advantage from 8.3 points in 2006 to 13.7 points in May of this year.

Not surprisingly, the CRP has been on a major registration push. Standriff said the party had registered nearly 200,000 new Republicans this year alone.

A pair of top legislative staffers have been a major part of the party’s registration efforts: Chuck Hahn, chief of staff to former Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, and Mike Zimmerman, chief for current Assembly Republican leader Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad.

Records show that between December of last year and April of 2010, the CRP paid $41,850 to West Coast Campaign Management, where Hahn is the sole proprietor, for voter registration. It also paid him about $116,000 directly for campaign consulting and registration between 2008 and 2010. Some of this money is for different posts Hahn has held within the party, including a stint as acting chief operating officer in February and March of this year.

The party paid $41,500 to Zimmerman Consulting, mainly for voter registration, between 2005 and 2009. Zimmerman has also done work for MB Public Affairs, a company that has taken in $326,000 from the CRP since 2005. Zimmerman used to work for MB, and also consulted with them at times since moving into the building, but said he hasn’t done anything for them in a year or more. He noted that he has a decade of experience in voter registration.

Carl Fogliani, who has served as chief of staff to both former Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian and current Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Stockton, received $63,000 in campaign consulting payments from the party to his company, Fogliani Strategies, in 2008. He left Berryhill’s workplace late last year. Julie Griffiths, who held a variety of jobs for two different Republican Assemblymen, was paid $17,000 in campaign consulting fees that same year.

These contracts were delivered without bids, Standriff confirmed.

“You’re coming in as a consultant,” Standriff said. “You’re bringing your background and expertise and a track record of success. People make a decision based on that.”

Most money paid for voter registration efforts passes through the consultant, who must then hire professional signature gatherers and others who go out on the street to actually sign up voters.

All of this is legal. Zimmerman and other Assembly Republican staffers have filed their required “Notice of Outside Business” activity forms with the Assembly Rules Committee. But a well-known former Democratic staffer took issue with what he sees as double-dipping.

“How can you have one foot in the door of the party and one foot in the building?” asked Steve Maviglio. “It’s an inherent conflict. You’re supposed to be a public servant while you’re getting a check from a partisan organization. It’s one thing to take time off for a campaign, but to do it year round?”

Maviglio spent years as a high-level staffer for former Gov. Gray Davis and former Speakers Fabian Nunez and Karen Bass. But he left the building before officially ramping up his company, Forza Communications. The state Democratic Party has paid him $55,000 for fundraising in the current cycle. A search through the current cycle of Democratic Party spending found no one currently working in the building who had gotten large payments from the party for consulting or registration work.

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