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The great congressional piggybank battle 

Look and see who's paying whom to represent the Central Coast in Washington, D.C.

-  - FILE PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER

If you need any indication of the importance money will have in the 2012 election, consider that Central Coast incumbent Democrat Lois Capps raised more cash in 2011 than she did over the entire 2007-08 election cycle.

In the race for the 23rd District, Capps so far has the most financial fuel in her campaign, depending on how you calculate the numbers. At a cursory glance, the Santa Barbara incumbent is actually poorer than her biggest competitor, former California lieutenant governor, assemblyman, and senator Abel Maldonado, but there are footnotes to both candidates’ numbers.

According to the latest reports to the Federal Election Commission, Maldonado received more than $1.2 million between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31; Capps took in about $1.05 million in the same year. (Capps received $1,049,123 from Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2008.)

- WHO DO YOU WORK FOR? :  According to recently filed FEC records, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps continues to pull much of her support from unions and PACs, while her main competitor, Abel Maldonado, continues to pull financial support from his own wallet. -  - FILE PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTOS BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • WHO DO YOU WORK FOR? : According to recently filed FEC records, Democratic Congresswoman Lois Capps continues to pull much of her support from unions and PACs, while her main competitor, Abel Maldonado, continues to pull financial support from his own wallet.

This year may be the most important local election in more than a decade for the Central Coast. Capps has safely held the 23rd District since she took over the seat in 1998 from her late husband, Walter Capps. But California’s recent redistricting process has chipped away at the 20-point victory she held over Republican Tom Watson in the 2008 election. Capps is left facing a new district that’s 39 percent Democrat, 36 percent Republican, and 20 percent decline to state.

In the new Central Coast swing district spanning San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and northern Ventura counties, outsiders are trying to seize the opportunity to flip a Democrat vote the other way in Congress. Capps has been consistently backed by labor and health-care providers, and she currently sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Perhaps that’s why Maldonado has continued to inflate his fundraising numbers. According to FEC records, Maldonado has floated a quarter-million dollar loan throughout his campaign, giving the impression he’s earned an extra $750,000 in the last year that in reality hasn’t gone toward his campaign.

Here’s how it works: Maldonado first loaned his campaign $250,000 on June 30, 2011, the last day of the federal reporting cycle. The next day, which was also the first day of the next reporting period to the FEC, he repaid the loan.

Then he did it again.

On Sept. 30, Maldonado loaned himself $250,000. He repaid it on Oct. 1, according to his most recent contribution filings. And it appears Maldonado will re-attempt the same maneuver for a third time. On Dec. 30, the Republican contender loaned himself $250,000, according to the FEC.

If he did repay the loan on Jan. 1 of this year, it won’t show up until he files his next quarterly contribution report with the FEC.

Capps’ campaign swiftly jumped on the issue. In a Feb. 1 news release from Lois Capps For Congress, campaign consultant Bill Carrick wrote, “In this redrawn district, we figured that at least one Republican would raise enough money to be a credible candidate for Congress.”

Asked about the money, Maldonado said he plans to use it at a later date, just not yet. In the meantime, he said he wants everyone to know he has that money and he plans to use it.

“The reason I’ve put it in is to let people know that I want to spend it,” he told New Times. “And if Lois Capps doesn’t think I’m going to spend it, then good for her.”

Without that money, Maldonado will have a lot of ground to make up. Democratic PACs have funneled money toward Capps, but the Republican hasn’t received any love from his party to date—and he might never.

“At this point in time, I’m on my own,” said Maldonado, who’s clearly positioning himself as the McCainian maverick in this race. “If the district wants somebody to go back to Washington and just knock the hell out of that place, then I hope they’ll consider me as their congressperson.”

While Maldonado has received precisely zero dollars from his party (he did receive $3,000 from PACs), Capps raked in $377,000 in PAC contributions, several of which donate solely to Democratic candidates. In total, PAC contributions account for almost 36 percent of her total contributions.

Unions and health-care providers once again provided Capps a heavy dose of cash. In the reporting period lasting Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the congresswoman received some of her largest individual contributions from such groups as the American Federation of Teachers ($5,000 to date) and the American Nurses Association PAC ($10,000 to date). She also received $11,500 in various contributions stemming from AmeriPAC, which has contributed nearly half a million to Democratic candidates, according to opensecrets.org.

Both Capps and Maldonado are facing challenges from voters. Capps, who’s heavily backed by the health-care industry and who has supported legislation ranging from federal health-care reform to the federal stimulus package, is now facing a more fiscally conservative voting base than she’s used to. Maldonado, on the other hand, has a local reputation as a partisan traitor for being the guy who cut a budget deal that favored tax increases in his last days as a state legislator.

In this election, Maldonado’s biggest fans might not ultimately come from the local Republican elite.

“There’s a lot of incentive for outside players to come in and pick this seat off,” said Michael Latner, an assistant professor in Cal Poly’s Political Science Department. “… The seat is just vulnerable.”

In his farewell budget deal, however, Maldonado also managed to open California’s primary system, giving him an advantage in elections just like the one he’s trying to win. Under the new system, Maldonado won’t have to out-Republican his other competitor, Christopher Mitchum (the Republican candidate has raised $6,485, according to the FEC). As a moderate, Maldonado might be steamrolled in a closed Republican primary, which usually draws hyper-partisan and ideological voters. As Latner put it, Maldonado “doesn’t get much love from the state GOP.”

However, with an open primary, Maldonado stands to capitalize on his moderate reputation, particularly compared to the federal health-care proponent to his left.

News Editor Colin Rigley likes to think of campaign contributions as little favors. Do him a favor and send an e-mail to crigley@newtimesslo.com.

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