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A look at the first round of fundraising in the battle for the 24th Congressional seat 

While California voters won’t be hitting the polls for the 2016 election’s June 7 primary for about 10 months, candidates in some of the hot races are already working hard to get their votes.

In the race to fill the U.S. House of Representatives 24th Congressional District seat, that hard work isn’t yet on public display. Instead, it’s all about the money as contenders stack their chips and prepare for what will surely become a very expensive—and potentially very nasty—all-out throw-down of an election.

On April 8, Congresswoman Lois Capps announced that she would serve out the remainder of her term and retire. The official story was that the Democrat had fulfilled her mission as public servant and at 77, it was time to respectfully pass the torch. The unofficial speculation was that after facing a tight election in 2014, where she beat Chris Mitchum, a Republican with a disheveled mix of Tea Party and Regan-era politics, even though she outspent him 10 to 1, it was time retire gracefully while she was still ahead.

Come 2016, the seat will be open for the first time in 22 years. Other factors will also make this a high-stakes election—Republicans are increasingly eyeing the district; recent redistricting shaved off a piece of its Democratic-leaning advantage; and turnout is expected to be high.

“I can see the two main candidates spending upward of $3 million each,” said Michael Latner, associate professor of politics at Cal Poly. (The same race in 2014 generated a total of $2.5 million.)

Now, five candidates are making early moves. There are two Republicans—California’s 35th District Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian of Arroyo Grande and Justin Fareed, the 20-something Santa Barbara native, rancher, and businessman—and three Democrats, Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; William Ostrander, a San Luis Obispo rancher, developer, and campaign finance reform advocate; and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider.

Campaign finance disclosures each candidate recently submitted to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) on July 15 offer a glimpse into what was largely the first round of campaign fundraising.

The total amounts vary widely. So far, Ostrander has only raised $8,477. At the high end, Carbajal brought in a whopping total of $629,354. Within that spread, Schneider raised $225,305; Fareed, $220,404; and Achadjian, $124,054.

As the candidates gear up for a race that will likely generate national attention—and money—Latner said early strategies seek to raise funds and build a list of supporters that will attract attention from the big fish, including the party.

“You’ll have a number of candidates that want the blessing of the State Central Committee,” Latner said. “They’ll say ‘raise half a million dollars by the end of June,’ then the anointment is given.”

Carbajal’s brisk fundraising is garnering some attention, which Latner said is helping him earn the support of what looks to be much of the area’s Democratic rank-and-file. Carbajal got another boost when Capps endorsed him in early June.

“It looks like Carbajal got in there early and got the unofficial endorsement,” Latner said. “He’s adopting a lot of the organization of the Capps campaign.”

As for the two Republicans in the race, the money may not yet be as telling. There is a fundamental difference between the candidates—Fareed is young, idealistic, and has no political experience, while Achadjian has been around the block, serving first as a SLO County supervisor, and then in the state Assembly. Even though Fareed has raised twice as much money as Achadjian, who the Republicans ultimately rally behind is “not even a question,” Latner said.

“[Achadjian] isn’t raising a lot of money, but it will come,” Latner said.

So far, the great majority of money has come from individual contributors, rather than political action committees (PAC). While the contributions are from individuals—allowed to donate up to $2,700 in each of the primary and general elections—who those people are and what they do for a living shows what kind of support each candidate may draw.

Most of Achadjian’s contributions have come from his base in Arroyo Grande and greater SLO County, including donations from vintners and the wine industry, other agriculturalists, business owners, real estate brokers, insurance salesmen, developers, professionals in the health care field, and several donations from fellow politicians and their electoral committees. Fareed’s contributions come primarily from developers and financial investment brokers, and many have hailed from Los Angeles or other areas outside the district.

Carbajal’s contributions largely come from Santa Barbara, and several are from people listed as retired. Real estate brokers had a strong showing on the list, and money also came from developers, lawyers, and people in the health care field. Schneider’s contributions also hail largely from Santa Barbara, with funds coming from several attorneys, retirees, business people, and those working in finance.

Ostrander’s short list of donors are mostly in SLO County and include a real estate broker, a currency trader, an attorney, a scientist, a few retirees, a musician, and a book indexer.

The individual contributions are just the beginning. As the campaigns continue, the so-called “dark money” will start showing up via PACs and other nonprofits that donate funds. Since the United States Supreme Court’s infamous Citizen’s United decision, a lot of money will be funneled through third party organizations that have no disclosure requirements. Even though that funding can’t be used by a specific campaign, the money is targeted in a way that shows support for or opposition against a certain candidate.

So while the two front runners may eventually be spending millions, much more may enter the fray.

“That’s where you’re going to see a lot of money going in this election,” Latner said.

Contact Staff Writer Jono Kinkade at jkinkade@newtimesslo.com.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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