Politics & Government

Obama, Romney 'shake the trees' in California

Even for a president who has lost some of his luster, donor-rich California remains a generous state.

President Barack Obama and his supporters raised some $59 million in large donations from the Golden State through April, just $3 million less than Obama and then-rival Hillary Rodham Clinton raised, combined, from Californians by this time in 2008.

Republican Mitt Romney and his supporters, meanwhile, have raised about $21 million in California.

Less than two weeks before a now-inconsequential Republican presidential primary – and six months before a November election in which Obama will almost certainly carry California – the state has settled into a familiar role: For a presidential candidate, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, "California's a place where you shake the trees."

Obama is scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area for two fundraisers today, just two weeks after his multimillion-dollar fundraiser at actor George Clooney's Los Angeles house.

Romney, who only recently overcame a contentious primary campaign to become his party's presumptive nominee, is expected to raise money in San Diego on June 2.

Jon Fleischman, a conservative blogger and former state Republican Party executive director, said he is "sensing a very quick coalescing of the Republican major donor community around Romney in California."

"I think when the final tallies are done on the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney will have raised more money from California than any other state," Fleischman said.

Both Obama and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, are expected to rely heavily on California to export millions of dollars in campaign contributions to competitive races in other states.

"Let's face it," said Eric Bauman, vice chairman of the California Democratic Party. "For Democrats, California is donor heaven, and because so many Californians support this president, it makes it an important place for him to come."

Through April 30, presidential campaigns had raised $43 million in itemized donations from Californians, down nearly 60 percent from the $102 million candidates had raised here by this point during the 2008 cycle, according to a Bee review of data from the Federal Election Commission.

But those data tell only part of the story. New on the scene are the super PACs, which spend money independent of a candidate's campaign and are allowed unlimited donations. As of April 30, roughly 1,100 California donors had contributed a total of $25 million to super PACs, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. The average contribution was $23,000.

Most super PAC donations went to Republican causes and presidential candidates. Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Romney, raised $5.4 million in the state through April 30, FEC records show. His actual campaign has raised $11 million in itemized donations from Californians.

A super PAC endorsing President Obama raised $5.1 million from Californians through March 31.

Also, President Obama has raised bigger money through a series of "joint" fundraisers with the Democratic National Committee in California, where donors cut a check to his campaign, then cut a bigger check to the Obama Victory Fund, which is managed by the Democratic National Committee.

The Clooney fundraiser, for instance, benefited Obama's fund and the DNC and is said to have raised nearly $15 million. Because the event was held May 10, the proceeds have yet to be officially reported.

With a maximum contribution of more than $30,000, the Obama Victory Fund has raised about $26 million from Californians, compared with $23 million in itemized contributions raised by his actual campaign. Californians also contributed about $5 million to the general DNC fund through April 30. More than 500 Californians have given at least $30,000 to the Obama Victory Fund.

Romney wasn't able to establish a similar "Victory Fund" with the Republican National Committee until last month, since the RNC didn't take a position in the Republican primary. That fund has already taken in more than $15 million nationwide, though state-level figures for the fund are not yet available. Romney will likely benefit from the roughly $6 million given by Californians to the Republican National Committee during the primary season.

None of these figures include cumulative donations from individuals of less than $200, which are not broken out by state by the Federal Election Commission. Nor do they include some advocacy groups not required to disclose their spending, such as Americans for Prosperity, run by the conservative Koch brothers, which is believed to be raising tens of millions of dollars.

Obama's popularity nationwide has been tested by the recession, and even in California, his job approval rating in February was just 53 percent, far below what it once was, according to a Field Poll.

His supporters are preparing for a fight.

Dennis Driver of Sacramento, a vice president of the Bay Area biopharmaceutical company Theravance Inc., increased his donation to Obama to $2,500 this year, up from $500 in 2008.

"I see this as an even more challenging time for his candidacy, and I felt it was important that I weigh in in as many dimensions as possible," Driver said.

Driver is hopeful for big crowds at Obama's fundraisers in Atherton and Redwood City today.

"When he comes out, the fact that he still draws means that we don't take the relationship for granted in either direction," he said.

Republicans, meanwhile, sense Obama is vulnerable.

"If we can provide resources to areas where it might make a difference, then we're happy to do that," said Jack Williams, who has given Romney $2,500 so far this election, twice what he gave in 2008.

Williams, owner of Smog 'N Go stores and president of the Elk Grove stake of the Mormon Church, said his wife, Lisa, has contributed $2,500, too.

"We feel it is the most important election that this country has had," he said.