Gov. Jerry Brown, who once served as chairman of the California Democratic Party, has turned to the party in a big way in his re-election campaign, raking in about $4.4 million in contributions from the organization.
The party’s continuing support of Brown, most recently with a $275,000 contribution this week, comes despite Brown’s relatively safe re-election prospects. He is far ahead of Republican Neel Kashkari in public opinion polls, and he reported Monday that he held about $23.6 million in cash on hand.
Brown has done almost no public campaigning for his re-election bid. But he began spending money from his campaign account on TV ads this week for Propositions 1 and 2, the $7.5 billion water bond and budget reserve measure.
Asked about the large donations to an incumbent governor who faces only a minimal challenge, Tenoch Flores, a party spokesman, said “The governor has identified Propositions 1 and 2 as major priorities. Those are among the party’s priorities, and we are interested in supporting the governor as he continues moving California forward.”
Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, said in an email that the “majority of resources being spent” from Brown’s campaign account is for Propositions 1 and 2.
There are inextricable ties between the Democratic Party and its top officeholder. Brown, chairman of the party from 1989 to 1991, appeared this week for the first time in a cable TV ad for Democrat Jose Solorio in a heated legislative race in Orange County. He is headlining a fundraiser for the state party’s get-out-the-vote effort on Tuesday.
In December, the Brown campaign reported a $25,000 “bonus” payment to Angie Tate, a Democratic fundraiser and chief financial officer of the state party.
Unlike individual donors, political parties can give unlimited amounts of money to statewide candidates, and about 25 donors who have contributed the maximum allowed to Brown – $54,400 – have also given to the party, Brown’s single largest benefactor.
Donors who have both maxed out to Brown and given to the party since last year include Blue Shield of California, AT&T California, Indian tribes and labor unions. Some of the donors, such as AT&T and Blue Shield of California, also contributed to the California Republican Party.
In some cases, Brown’s maxed-out donors gave to the Democratic governor and his state party on the same day, according to state filings.
For example, the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association gave a pair of $27,200 donations to Brown on Feb. 7, 2014 – the same day it gave $65,000 to the California Democratic Party.
Donors can give an unlimited amount to the state party, but only $34,000 from any one source in a calendar year can be used by the party for state candidate contributions. The practice is permissible as long as donations to political parties are not earmarked for a specific candidate.
“It’s a way of maintaining access to the powers that be. That’s just the way the game is played,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.