One of the interesting offshoots of having a highly competitive congressional district created in the heart of Ventura County is that the campaign appears to be changing a political culture in which contributing money to candidates was largely a foreign concept.
In the past, few candidates had been able to successfully tap into a local donor base to help fund their campaigns, resulting in either lopsided races or contests that were largely funded by the state party machinery and outside interest groups. Finance reports from the candidates in the 26th Congressional District so far this year suggest that the heightened sense of competition has motivated politically engaged individuals in Ventura County to start opening their checkbooks.
In the first quarter of this year, for example, based on a Star analysis, Republican Tony Strickland raised $139,000 from county donors, independent Linda Parks $96,000 and Democrat Julia Brownley $93,000. The latest reports filed yesterday show that the trend is continuing. I haven't yet analyzed them, but just a cursory look reveals that scores of county residents are continuing to make contributions.
(You can review the reports here. Just type in the candidate's last name, and on the menu bars select the appropriate party, state and "House" for type of contest. Once you get to the candidate's reports, click on "itemized receipts," all lines.)
It elections past, such reports would reveal only a relative handful of the usual suspects of contributors in the county -- Salem Communications' Edward Attsinger III on the right, for example, or Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard on the left.
There are some differences among the candidates. Strickland's support, for instance, is largely based in the east county and his donors often give from $1,000 to $2,500. Brownley's local contributors come largely from the west county and typically give from $100 to $500. In Parks' initial report, most of her donors were from her Thousand Oaks-based supervisorial district and gave $500 or more. Her new report shows that base broadening both geographically and in the size of the contributions.
Also notable is that the online group Act Blue, which solicits small, directed contributions (often in the $25 to $50) range online, raised $75,000 in April and the first 16 days of May in small contributions for Brownley.
If this activity signals the start of a trend, it might change some of the local political dynamics. It might mean, for example, that candidates from Ventura County could become more competitive against candidates from Santa Barbara County (which has long been a gold mine for political contributions) in districts that cross county lines.
One troubling aspect of all this, however, is that it could serve to further disadvantage Latino candidates, who still don't have a local fundraising base. In this campaign, for example, Oxnard Harbor District Commissioner Jess Herrera, a Democrat, has consistently impressed folks attending forums with his thoughtful answers, sense of humor and sense of purpose. But as the fundraising and spending has ramped up, Herrera has been left behind, struggling to get his name out while the others are either flooding the TV airwaves, stuffing mailboxes with campaign material or both.
Herrera could still have a significant impact in this campaign, however. Although hardly a one-dimensional candidate, he has been working neighborhoods in Oxnard, Santa Paula and Fillmore. And, at least as far as I know, none of the candidates has used any of this money to reach out to lower-income voters who don't contribute. I've seen no evidence of any Spanish-language advertising.