How politicians spend and fundraise in California

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President Obama in Silicon Valley. Photo via Flickr/ Steve Jurvetson/ CC

Political spending in California is not as high as in states with more contentious races, but party leaders still see the state as a place for some serious fundraising.

In the lead-up to the November elections, an estimated $8.2 million has been spent on political ads in California. That’s not a lot compared to states facing more heated races. Florida, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania have seen an average of $50.7 million in ad buys each. However, money still matters here.

“If you have the exposure, then you get to sell your message. But you’ve got to have the exposure first,” said John Meyers, Senior editor for KQED’s California Politics & Government Desk, on KCRW’s The Mixer.

“We can talk all day about money in politics, but if you don’t have the money in California, you can’t run statewide,” says Meyers.

Meyers points to the governor’s race where Republican Neel Kashkari is well behind incumbent Jerry Brown in polling, and yes, money. Brown has an estimated $23-24 million in his war chest to Kashkari’s mere $600,000. With Kashkari trailing in the polls by 15-20 points, Brown using his campaign to promote the passage of key ballot measures such as Proposition 1 (to create a state water bond) and Proposition 2 (that would create a budget stabilization account).

“When you’re playing that far ahead, you don’t need to talk about yourself. You talk about what you want to do in the next term,” said Meyers.

Looking beyond the state-wide races, the influence of California’s money becomes clear. With the eighth largest economy in the world, California plays an integral role in national politics. Any angeleno can tell you about the recurring “Obamajams.” The president recently took his 30th fundraising trip to LA County since taking office.

“It’s a sense that he comes and he takes. He takes the money to go bludgeon people with that in purple states but doesn’t give much,” Joe Mathews, California Columnist for Zocalo Public Square, said on The Mixer.

Obama certainly isn’t the first president to use Los Angeles as a fundraising source. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush came to LA eight times each, while Bill Clinton was in town an astonishing 36 times during his presidency. According to Meyers, this is to be expected.

“LA is the heart of the California political ATM machine.”