By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Let's say, just as a fer-instance, that you're one of those people who can't stand the way presidential campaigns are financed in this country. McCain-Feingold doesn't go nearly far enough! you huff. Money is not speech! you grouse. Why, it turns the most important political race in the United States into a game of crass money-grubbing!
Well, you're right. It's crass, it's undignified, it's just plain weird. And when the Weekly first decided to do a special election feature about the money the candidates had raised here, timed a couple of weeks before the Feb. 5 California primary, we thought we were going to make it all about the money and let the ridiculous dollar figures—mostly on the GOP side—sort of speak for themselves.
A couple of things changed our minds. First, the numbers we've got right now—thanks to the good folks at the Center for Responsive Politics—though huge (more than $4.6 million), are out of date. The last mandatory disclosure forms were filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) at the end of October; the next won't be available until the end of this month, right before the primary. So these figures don't reflect things like Huckabee's Iowa win making him the darling of the Christian Right, Obama's Iowa win turning the Dem side into a two-person race, and McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Second, as we looked over the names of the big individual local donors (candidates only need to disclose the names of those who donate $200 or more), we were intrigued by the mix of familiar and obscure names, and we decided to build our story around them. Who the hell are these people, and why did they decide to pay up when the little metal elephant (or donkey) landed on their property?
Some of them blew us off, but enough answered to offer a fascinating glimpse into the minds of OC's political players. So grab your top hat and cane, and join us for a spin around the board of what remains (housing crisis notwithstanding) some of the richest political real estate in the country.
HELP YOURSELF TO OUR COMMUNITY CHEST
LOOT AT LAST COUNT: $799,459
It's no secret that real-estate mogul Don Bren and his Irvine Co. have carte blanche when it comes to the lay of OC's land (develop, develop, develop). Bren is the richest real-estate developer in the country, responsible, basically, for the way Orange County looks (suburban grids planned down to their last squirrel). Last year, 30 years after Bren purchased the the Irvine Co. with other investors, Forbes estimated that Bren is worth about $13 billion. Such heft has made Bren one of the mightiest wielders of influence when it comes to politics, presidential and otherwise. The billionaire has given millions to conservative Republican candidates over the years and is known for swaying political battles by mere affiliation. In this year's presidential cycle, his golden touch landed on John McCain. The Irvine Co. made the top-10-highest-contributors list for McCain's campaign, with a whopping $68,400 in $200-and-higher donations by nearly two dozen employees as of the end of October 2007. The donations put the company up there with such other hefty McCain donors as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Univision. But the donations haven't all gone to McCain: one employee gave to Giuliani, and another (soon-to-be-former?) employee chipped in to Barack Obama's campaign.
Although George Argyros' heft is more literal than it is fiscal, he's a formidable OC political player nonetheless. The Newport Beach businessman, developer, millionaire (bordering on billionaire) and infamous U.S. Ambassador to Madrid has decided to help pay for gas on the Straight Talk Express. Argyros and his wife have each donated the maximum individual contribution of $4,600 to McCain's primary and general-election campaigns. Argyros is also a co-chairman for McCain's national finance committee—which seems to make sense, as Argyros raised $30 million for the candidate's 2000 presidential campaign as head fund-raiser for the California Republican Party. But around the same time Argyros was raising money for McCain's presidential run, his apartment company, Arnel Management Co., was investigated by the Orange County DA's office on charges that he defrauded thousands of poor renters who lived in his apartments. Arnel later paid $1.5 million in fines, admitting no guilt; Argyros' name was dropped from the state's civil suit.
LOOT AT LAST COUNT: $1,017,088
Rudy supporters will tell you that sandbagging Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada and South Carolina was all strategy, baby, because Giuliani has his eyes on the big trophies: Florida, New York, New Jersey and California. With big wins in those states, he could still snag the nomination.
Big support from the Republican donor base in Orange County has been part of the Giuliani master plan all along. He has been visiting frequently for more than a year and, from the department of "it seemed like a good idea at the time," even gained the support of America's Most Indicted (Former) Sheriff Mike Carona.
A look into Captain 9/11's campaign contributors list shows a bevy of Orange County corporate executives and real-estate developers, several of whom did not return phone calls from the Weekly.