Former Lt. Gov Abel Maldonado has secured a contribution but not an endorsement from one of California's most influential GOP donors as he moves closer to a possible 2014 run for governor.
Charles T. Munger Jr. confirmed Friday that he plans to contribute an undisclosed amount to a committee Maldonado is opening to explore a gubernatorial bid, but said he is refraining from endorsing any of the possible GOP candidates at this point because of his role as chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Party.
"I welcome him into the race because I think that he brings needed energy, and it's hard to have a debate with one person," Munger said in an interview.
Maldonado filed paperwork this week that allows him to start raising money for a possible challenge to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who has not yet announced re-election plans but is widely expected to run. The Santa Maria Republican also hired several well-known campaign advisers and launched a new website promoting the Abel for Governor campaign.
Munger said Maldonado and the two other Republicans who are considered possible candidates for governor conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and businessman and former Treasury Department official Neel Kashkari all "bring different skill sets and different crystallizing issues before the voters."
Maldonado, he said, could help the California GOP reconnect with communities it has not paid enough attention to in the past, including the state's growing Latino population.
"His candidacy itself indicates that the Republican Party is taking the responsibility for serving those communities," Munger said. "A party can't get more serious than having a candidate who belongs to those communities seeking office for governor."
Campaign contribution rules limit Munger to giving $27,200 per election to Maldonado's gubernatorial committee. Munger, who poured tens of millions of dollars into candidate races and ballot measure campaigns in 2012, declined to say whether he plans to spend more to support Maldonado or any other candidate through an independent expenditure committee, which is not subject to contribution limits.
Maldonado, who represented portions of the Central Coast in the state Legislature for about 12 years before being appointed to fill a lieutenant governor vacancy in 2010, is coming off back-to-back election losses. He was defeated by Democrat Gavin Newsom in his 2010 bid for a full term as lieutenant governor. And his 2012 effort to unseat Democratic Rep. Lois Capps in the Central Coast's 24th Congressional District fell short by 10 percentage points.
Maldonado, who was not made available for an interview Friday, has faced pushback from conservatives in the past for his 2009 vote for temporary tax increases and successful effort to eliminate partisan primaries in favor of a top-two election system, a reform Munger also strongly supported.
He's also been hit by opponents on the campaign trail about a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over whether his family's farming operation owes $4 million in back taxes.
Many political observers believe Brown would be hard to beat in 2014, given his high approval ratings and the GOP's recent struggles at the ballot box. Republicans, who hold no statewide office, ceded supermajority control to Democrats in the Legislature and saw their share of registered voters dip below 30 percent in 2012.
Still, Munger said he believes voters in the diverse, populous and multigenerational state of California are ready for a new, younger face to lead the state.
"Re-electing the governor, who will serve his final day in office when he is in his 80s, is perhaps not what they are looking for," he said.
Call Torey Van Oot, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5544.