Capitol Alert

California legislators ended election with $18 million in the bank

Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, confer as the California Legislature approves the budget bill in June 2014. Legislative caucuses had more than $18 million on hand Dec. 31.
Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, and Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, confer as the California Legislature approves the budget bill in June 2014. Legislative caucuses had more than $18 million on hand Dec. 31. Sacramento Bee file

Members of the Legislature’s Democratic and Republican caucuses ended 2014 with more than $18 million in the bank following a fall campaign season that centered on whether Democrats would retain legislative supermajorities.

Could any of that money have made a difference in a close Nov. 4 race? Party operatives had a collective response: No.

“I don’t think hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars more would have helped,” said Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats, who suffered a net loss of three seats in November, falling two seats below the two-thirds status they had clinched in 2012. He and other Democrats blame their losses on the party’s supporters failing to vote at expected levels.

The latest campaign statements show that most caucus members in both houses donated the legal limit to their party’s candidates in tough races. In addition, most contributed the maximum to their respective state party’s candidate campaign fund.

Many lawmakers store up political money to run for re-election, seek other office, or to position themselves for caucus leadership posts. A tapped-out campaign account, moreover, can invite trouble, particularly in an era of same-party runoffs and deep-pocketed outside spending groups. There is no expectation that caucus members drain their accounts to help caucus causes, party operatives said.

Some rank-and-file caucus members ended the election year with significant bank balances after easy races.

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State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, had $1.2 million left over after winning re-election with almost 65 percent of the vote. In the Assembly, Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, had almost $1 million on hand Dec. 31 after defeating a no-party-preference opponent by 33 percentage points Nov. 4. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, ✔R-San Diego, had more than $700,000 in his campaign accounts after defeating his Democratic opponent by more than 30 percentage points.

Collectively, the 52 Assembly Democrats who returned to Sacramento in December reported a total of $7.6 million cash on hand Dec. 31, state filings show. Maviglio said none of that would have made a difference in any of the Republican-vs.-Democrat races that Democrats lost, including a 706-vote defeat for then-Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, ✔D-Torrance.

Senate Democrats began the session with 26 seats, one short of a supermajority, after losing both of their targeted races Nov. 4. The caucus’s members as of Dec. 31 had more than $5.3 million in their campaign accounts, records show.

Republicans said they were satisfied with the November results and had no concerns about leftover money.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, said the caucus waged “world-class campaigns” and “enjoyed generous support from our Democratic senators caucus-wide.”

For their part, Republicans said they were satisfied with the November results and had no money concerns. Senate Republicans, who ended the year with $2.8 million on hand, held one seat and gained another.

Assembly Republicans picked up four seats Nov. 4, but lost a Republican-held seat on the Ventura coast by about 5,000 votes, for a net gain of three. Caucus members ended 2014 with $3.1 million in the bank.

“We think our members gave unprecedented amounts to Assembly Republican efforts, and we’re elated with the results,” caucus spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

Topping the list of state politicians with money in the bank is Gov. Jerry Brown. His re-election and ballot measure committees finished 2014 with $24 million in the bank, significantly more than legislators’ combined total.

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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