You can learn a lot from sifting through the campaign spending reports filed quarterly with the Federal Elections Commission. The deadline to report donations and expenditures from January-March was April 17. Here's what we've learned about California's Congressional races:
1. Cheap Open Seats:
It's early yet, but if you wanted to run for Congress and didn't have access to a lot of money, this was the year to make a try. This quarter, four candidates running to replace George Miller in San Francisco's East Bay raised $158,000. That's the total for all four candidates. Compare that to the average campaign war chest this time of year for an incumbent in California of over half a million dollars.
The cheapest place to run in California this year is in the 35th district in the Inland Empire, vacated by Democrat Gloria Negrete McLeod. Two candidates in that race have together raised less than $65,000.
2. What a Difference Two Years Makes
In 2012, when realignment forced Sherman Oaks Democrat Brad Sherman to run against then-fellow incumbent Howard Berman, they spent nearly $12 million, with outside groups throwing in an additional $4 million, making it one of the most expensive races in the country. Sherman raised just $72,000 this quarter. His challenger this time around is lesser-known fellow Democrat Marc Litchman, who has just under $1,400 in his campaign account. On paper, that’s better than Sherman, who's nearly $458,000 in the red from his 2012 race.
3. The Most Expensive Races This Year
Yup, the biggest money race is on L.A.'s Westside. The cost of the contest to replace Democrat Henry Waxman could top even the Sherman/Berman race of two years ago. So far, the top nine (of 21) candidates together raised $4.7 million in the first three months of this year. That includes loans made by several candidates: Democrat Ted Lieu loaned his campaign $55,000; Marianne Williamson, running without a party designation, loaned her campaign $60,000.
Down in San Diego, freshman Democrat Scott Peters is facing a trio of GOP challengers; so far this quarter, together they've raised just over half a million dollars. But together, they have $2.7 million in the bank.
4. Other Races to Watch:
In 2012, Democrat Raul Ruiz upset Palm Springs Republican Mary Bono Mack. Democrats are determined to keep that seat this year. Ruiz raised $431,000 this quarter and has $1.5 million in cash on hand; his GOP challenger, Brian Nestande, raised $145,000 in the first part of 2014 and has $323,000 in the bank.
In the Inland Empire, Republican Gary Miller is retiring and Democrats are targeting the seat. Early on, the party got behind Redlands mayor Pete Aguilar, but he has serious opposition from attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes. Aguilar raised $262,000 this quarter; Reyes raised $206,000. Former Congressman Joe Baca is hoping to return to Washington, but he's relying mostly on name recognition since he raised only $33,000 this quarter. On the GOP side, Miller's former policy director, Lesli Gooch, is running. She raised $200,000 this quarter, but half of that she loaned to her campaign.
Up in the Central Valley, Republican freshman David Valadao is being targeted because the GOP-led House of Representatives won't take up immigration reform. Party registration in this heavily-Latino district favors Democrats. That party's candidate in this race, Amanda Renteria, raised $303,000 this quarter; Valadao brought in $342,000. But Valadao has twice as much as Renteria in the bank: $852,000 to her $424,000.
5. It's Always Nice to be in Leadership
It's part of the job when you're a leader in the House of Representatives to help your fellow party members when they're running short on campaign cash. California's leadership team on both sides of the aisle is ready:
Among Republicans, House Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield has $2.8 million on hand; Darrell Issa of Vista, head of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has $3.1 million in campaign cash; Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita is retiring, but he still has $401,000 in his campaign account.
Over on the Democratic side of the aisle, Waxman has $675,000 to spread around now that he's not running; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has $485,000 she can share; The number three House Democrat, Xavier Becerra of Los Angeles, has more than a million in cash on hand; and Judy Chu of El Monte, chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus, has $1.4 million in the bank.
6. Interesting Factoids
Issa has capitalized on having so much money on hand. He reports $83,000 in "unrealized gains" this quarter from investments in bonds and mutual funds with Merrill Lynch.
Republican John Campbell of Irvine is retiring from Congress, but there will be a John Campbell on the ballot in San Diego: John W. Campbell, running without a party preference