Costly contest

February 13, 2006

The race to replace disgraced former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham has become, according to a new report, among the most expensive contests in the country.

The analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the watchdog group that analyzes spending in campaigns, shows that those running for the 50th congressional district seat have collectively raised nearly $1.9 million. That puts this House race No. 14 on the center's “Top 15” list of high-cost elections.

Candidates for the 50th have so far shelled out a collective $1.3 million for the potential privilege of representing voters in the district, edging the contest even higher in the charts for spending, to spot No. 9. (Spot No. 1 goes to the candidates farther north, who've spent a collective $3.6 million jockeying to replace former Rep. Chris Cox, the Newport Beach Republican who President Bush appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

Eleven Republicans, two Democrats and one Libertarian are competing in the April 11 special election that could determine who finishes the remainder of Cunningham's term, though a June runoff is possible. A November election will determine who wins the seat for a full two-year term. Cunningham resigned after pleading guilty to taking bribes from defense contractors.

Perhaps just as interesting as how much money these folks are raising and spending is where they're getting it. The Center for Responsive Politics provides a nifty on-line database that breaks down contributions by industry, ideology and even ZIP code.


La Jolla and Del Mar, as one might imagine, have been enormous cash pools for candidate Francine Busby, the Democrat from Cardiff who tried and failed in the past to unseat Cunningham. Busby took $23,650 from contributors living in the first town, and an additional $17,548 from contributors living in the second. About one of every four dollars that the school board member took came from political action

Poway is a cash cow for Alan Kurt Uke, the Republican businessman who has raised $423,654, the bulk of it from his own loans. Uke took $50,000 from the Poway area, though its difficult to say whether this represents any loans from the candidate himself.

The sugar towns for former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian appear to be Oceanside ($4,200) and Rancho Santa Fe (another $4,200), with La Jollans giving this Republican a relatively modest $2,500.

The center does not list similar breakdowns for the other candidates.

This is because these candidates either did not raise enough to generate a breakdown when the center put it together or because contributors in no single ZIP code contributed $1,000 or more to the candidates.

Seaside communities – in San Diego and farther up the coast – seem to be one of Kaloogian's big draws. He's taken contributions from neighborhoods close to home – Oceanside, Cardiff by the Sea, San Marcos and Carlsbad – and from surfing towns elsewhere, such as Newport Beach.

And let's not forget the $500 gifts from people who will never get to vote for him because they live in New York City; Arlington, Va.; and New Canaan, Conn.

As for those folks who live in Rancho Santa Fe, they're being mighty generous in this campaign to replace their former representative: They gave $13,450 to Busby's race and $4,200 to Kaloogian's.

And who are these folks giving their money away? Busby's contributors are all over the map. Those working in the finance, insurance and real estate industries are top contributors to her campaign, as well as educators, lawyers and lobbyists. Single-issue groups – typically these are ideological organizations – rank right up there. So do retirees. Some of Busby's top gifts came from individuals at the University of California, the United Transportation Union, JMB Realty and Pacific Bakery Inc.

Uke's large contributions appear to come from those in the “manufacturing and distributing” business, but again, this could represent his own loans to the campaign.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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