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Where Are Big GOP Donors Giving in Governor's Race? To Democrats

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Democratic gubernatorial candidates Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom raked in the lion's share of campaign contributions from donors who had previously given to Republicans Meg Whitman or Neel Kashkari. (Alex Wong and Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

With less than a month to go until California's top-two primary sends two gubernatorial candidates to the general election, Republicans face an imminent challenge: coalesce behind one candidate or risk a split vote that could allow two Democrats to advance to November's ballot.

"We need to unite as a party," said gubernatorial hopeful John Cox at last weekend's state Republican Convention. "We need to make sure that we get a good candidate in the top two."

Neither Cox, a San Diego businessman, nor his leading Republican opponent, Assemblyman Travis Allen, were able to leave the convention with a party endorsement.

But their difficulty in consolidating traditional Republican support has extended beyond a delegate count.

A KQED News analysis of donors to the last two Republicans to advance in a gubernatorial general election -- Meg Whitman and Neel Kashkari -- shows that those contributors are sending more money to leading Democrats this time around.


Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has received at least $1.1 million from Whitman and Kashkari donors, while former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken home more than $1 million.

Cox and Allen both received less than $100,000 from these individuals and businesses.

KQED News matched donations to Whitman and Kashkari reported to the Secretary of State's Office with donations reported in the current gubernatorial campaign, from the beginning of 2015 through the end of the latest campaign filing period, on April 21.

The analysis does not include donations made to independent expenditure committees operating separately from the campaigns.

Like Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, and Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, Cox has largely bankrolled his own campaign.

But he and Allen have struggled to gain support from major donors who backed Whitman's campaign in 2010. Before losing to Jerry Brown, Whitman raised tens of millions of dollars on top of the roughly $140 million of her own fortune that she poured into her run.

"[Whitman] had a very large Rolodex," said Hector Barajas, a Republican strategist who worked as Whitman's campaign spokesman in 2010. "She had a personal connection to a lot of these folks within the tech, the banking, the financial institutions that she had built throughout her entire career."

The absence of a Republican candidate with those wide business ties seems to have splintered traditional big GOP donors, and pushed them toward Newsom and Villaraigosa.

In Silicon Valley, Newsom has recruited the maximum allowed contributions from major Whitman backers, including $56,400 each from Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

Closer to his home turf, Villaraigosa has raised over $100,000 from Southern California philanthropists Eli Broad and Henry Samueli, who both gave heavily to Whitman. Villaraigosa also received nearly $30,000 from businessmen Harry Sloan and Robert Day, big players on the national GOP fundraising scene.

Republican candidates Travis Allen (second from left), Mark Meuser and John Cox wait to make their pitch to GOP delegates in San Diego on May 5, 2018.
Republican candidates Travis Allen (second from left), Mark Meuser and John Cox wait to make their pitch to GOP delegates in San Diego on May 5, 2018. (Marisa Lagos/KQED News)

Unlike the leading Democrats, Cox and Allen have also been unable to tap into historically bipartisan givers like telecom giants, Indian tribes and health care providers, which typically spread their contributions among both parties.

The cash these donors gave to Whitman couldn't get her within 10 points of Jerry Brown in the 2010 election.

Now, those same donors may be concluding that any money spent on a Republican candidate is a lost cause in a state where the party's registration sits at just 25 percent of registered voters.

"Most of the Republican donors really aren't contributing to Republican candidates anymore," said Mike Madrid, a GOP consultant who is advising Villaraigosa in this race. "Because they, like most of the voters, recognize a Republican is not going to win the governorship in California."

Madrid's presence in Villaraigosa's campaign has been one signal that the former mayor is trying to attract traditional Republican voters and donors.

Villaraigosa has tried to establish a consistent campaign presence in the traditionally Republican Central Valley, and he's situated himself to the right of Newsom on issues like health care.

State Treasurer John Chiang, who is hoping to leapfrog into second place in the waning weeks of the campaign, has taken aim at Villaraigosa for receiving donations from Republicans.

"Antonio Villaraigosa has shown he doesn't care whose name is on the check as long as it clears its way into his bank account," said Fabien Levy, Chiang's deputy campaign manager, in a press release this week.

Chiang has received at least $277,735 from Whitman and Kashkari donors.

"It's a politician doing political things as their numbers get stalled in the low single digits," Madrid said of Chiang's attack.

Newsom and Villaraigosa entered the race months (in Newsom's case, years) before Allen and Cox, building up war chests that leave the Republicans in a financial paradox.

Allen and Cox could both use an influx of cash for a final boost leading up to election day, but that financial infusion may not happen unless either shows an increased level of viability.

"People oftentimes wait to see who makes it through the primary," said Barajas. "Then you start seeing some of these traditional Republican donors."


Donations to Whitman and Kashkari reported to the Secretary of State's Office were matched with donations reported in the current gubernatorial campaign, from Jan. 1, 2015, through the end of the latest campaign filing period on April 21, 2018. Each match was then individually reviewed to ensure that it was coming from the same donor. Some entries under different names were consolidated if they came from the same organization, but contributions from employees of a business were left separate from the businesses' own donations.

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