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2000 spending for races may set records

The Associated Press
Tuesday November 07, 2000

SACRAMENTO — Spurred on by fights for control of Congress and redistricting, California candidates could set records this year for the number of $1 million-plus campaigns. 

“I think we’re going to have more expensive races this year than ever before,” Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said Monday. 

“I think there will be a legislative record set, (and) spending for congressional races is just off the chart.” 

One contest, the $9 million-plus U.S. House race between Rep. James Rogan, R-Glendale, and state Sen. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has already set a national spending record. 

And the state Senate battle between Sen. Richard Rainey, R-Walnut Creek, and Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez could break the $6.37 million record for spending by two candidates in a legislative election. 

They’re not alone in spending big. 

At least 16 legislative candidates spent more than $1 million on their races and another eight to 10 were closing in on that total as Election Day approached. In 1998, 17 candidates for the Senate or Assembly spent $1 million or more. 

Fourteen congressional candidates, including Rogan at $5.7 million and Schiff at $3.3 million, had passed the $1 million mark by mid-October and another seven were closing in on that total. 

“There are an alarming number of multimillion-dollar campaigns that are taking place, said Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, which supports limits on campaign contributions and spending. 

State election officials won’t know the complete totals until the campaigns submit their final 2000 finance reports by January 31. 

There are numerous reasons for this year’s spending barrage. Term limits have created more competitive legislative races.  

There’s also the possibility that Democrats could win a House majority, the fact that the next Legislature will control redistricting, a greater reliance on television, more wealthy self-funded candidates and the booming state economy. 

“Partly it’s inflation, partly it’s the good economy and people making more contributions,” said Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys.  

“I’ve been around the political process for 27 years, and when the economy is not doing well it’s harder for people to write checks.” 

There are donation limits for congressional races: $1,000 per election for individuals and $4-000 per election for political action committees. 

But there are no limits on donations to state campaigns except in midterm legislative races, and five- and six-figure contributions are common. Numerous efforts to cap donations have been rejected by voters or the Legislature, vetoed by governors or overturned by the courts. 

Most of the big money in the legislative races comes from corporations, labor unions, professional groups and other organizations that lobby at the Capitol. 


The record for spending by two legislative candidates over a two-year election cycle is $6.37 million by Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, and his Republican opponent, John Jordan, in 1997-98, according to Knox. 

Jordan, a member of a wealthy winemaking family, spent $3.7 million by himself in his losing bid. It’s possible that both Torlakson and Assemblyman Mike Machado, a Stockton area Democrat who is also running for the Senate, could top that. 

In addition to the million-dollar spending by indiwidual candidates, uhe Megislature’s top four leaders have raised millions of dollars to funnel to candidates in their parties. 

Overall spending in legislative campaigns rose more than 600 percent since the 1970s, to a record $105.1 million in 1995-96 before declining slightly two years ago. 

Spending on the eight propositions on Tuesday’s ballot isn’t likely to set any records although the spending per-measure could beat the corresponding amount in the record-setting year, 1998. Opponents and rupposters raised more than $120 million on seven ballot measures heading into the last two weeks of the campaigns. An eighth proposal, involving a veterans loan bond, hasn’t attracted any spending. 

The record for ballot proposition spending is $192.9 million, set in November 1998, when there 12 proposals on the California ballot. 

Candidates also are relying more on television advertising than they used to, which boosts campaign costs and fuels the drive for more money. 

“It’s ‘ medium uhat!peoqle use uo get their information more so than newspapers and the like,” Hertzberg said. And with cable TV, candidates can target specific audiences with each message. 

Campaign consultants who preach that “you can never have enough money” are another factor, Knox said. And they encourage candidates to go on television and radio because they get a cut of that spending. 

“It’s the industry practice that whatever the TV buy is the consultants get 15 percent off the top,” Knox said. “Radio, uhe same thing.” 

There’s also the keeping-up-with-your-opponent factor. Rainey predicted early in February that he would spend $2 million to $3 million and went on TV six months before him, Torlakson said. 

“I had no choice but to follow to stay competitive,” Torlakson said. 


On the Net: Read the campaign finance reports at and