LOS ANGELES – Gov. Gray Davis has successfully raised millions of dollars across the country for his re-election campaign, using the power of the nation’s most populous state like few politicians before him.
Davis, who has set a first-term fund-raising target of $50 million, has already raised $7.6 million from donors outside California who either have political or economic stakes in the Golden State, according to a report Sunday in the Los Angeles Times.
“That’s one of the differences between the governor of California and the governor of Wyoming,” said Garry South, the chief architect of Davis’ re-election strategy. “Nearly everyone is vested in California in some fashion or another.”
Among the largest donors, CitiGroup Inc. has given Davis at least $250,000. The New York-based company’s interests in California range from insurance regulation to privacy rights.
Telecommunications firm Verizon, also of New York, has donated more than $200,000.
“One thing that’s important to us is . . . maintaining a reasonable and good business climate in California,” said Peter Bear, head of state government affairs for 3M, the Minnesota-based firm that has given Davis $26,500.
The strategic importance of the California governor’s office extends beyond corporate interests.
“Raising money for governors has taken on a whole new importance after what happened in Florida,” said David Rosen, a Democratic fund-raiser in Chicago.
Republican Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida marshaled key support for his brother George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and the extended battle to declare a victor in the deadlocked state, he said.
“People understand what it means to be the governor of a state and how it can impact a presidential election in terms of political infrastructure, get out the vote and the communications process up and down a state,” Rosen said.
Of the nine most populous states in the nation, only California has a Democratic governor.
California is considered a crucial state for any Democratic candidate hoping to win the White House, which means the national party has a special interest in seeing Davis win re-election.
Davis also is benefiting from California’s reputation for setting trends and trying new policies, such as the patients’ bill of rights law Davis signed in 1999.
“As California goes, so goes the nation,” said Dennis Rivera, head of the Service Employees International Union in New York, which has raised more than $200,000 for Davis.
“He can do absolutely nothing for us,” Rivera said. “But he can set an example.”
Three Republicans are vying to take on the governor: Secretary of State Bill Jones, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Los Angeles businessman Bill Simon. The primary is in March and the general election is in November.
Davis has taken advantage of California’s leadership position to a much greater degree than his predecessor.
Republican Pete Wilson was considered one of the best fund-raisers of his day. In eight years, however, he collected only about $6.3 million from other states.
Unlike federal candidates who face campaign finance restrictions, candidates for state offices can accept unlimited amounts.
But some of Davis’ tactics have come under fire from Republicans, who say he’s using tax dollars to raise funds.
In December, for instance, Davis traveled to Washington, D.C., for roughly 24 hours. He met with Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge and also attended a union-hosted fund-raiser, collecting $421,602.
“It is disingenuous,” said Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for the state GOP. “If you’re going to raise money, tell people why you’re going. Don’t use your office as a ruse to go on fund-raising trips.”
South, however, said all of Davis’ travel outside the state is financed by his campaign committee, not taxpayers, although his staff does travel at state expense.