O.C. an ATM for candidates

Records show locals donate big bucks for candidates, both Republican and Democratic.

February 02, 2008|By Brianna Bailey

“Donate early and donate often” could be a mantra for Newport Beach businessman Buck Johns.

Johns, president of Inland Energy, has given $2,300 to Mike Huckabee, $4,600 to Rudy Giuliani, $2,300 to Fred Thompson and $4,400 to Mitt Romney, according to federal records.

“This year Orange County can actually make a difference,” Johns said. “We’ve gotten a lot of play this year.”

Johns is just one of many influential Newport Beach donors. The area has deep pockets for presidential candidates.

Newport Beach ranks statewide as a top donation spot for presidential hopefuls, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. One Newport Beach ZIP Code alone — 92660 — generated more than $1.3 million in individual donations to federal candidates, PACs and parties during the first nine months of 2007, according to the center.


“Historically, Orange County is known as the most Republican county in the country. A lot of candidates have jump-started their campaigns through Orange County,” said George Andrews, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County.

Irvine Co. real estate mogul Donald Bren gave John McCain the maximum donation of $4,600 in 2007, Federal Election Commission records show.

Noted local philanthropist and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli gave $2,300 apiece to Hillary Clinton and McCain in 2007, according to the most recent data available from the commission. His wife, Susan Samueli, gave another $2,300 to Clinton, records show.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Spain and real estate magnate George Argyros donated $4,600 apiece to McCain and Giuliani in 2007. His wife, Julianne, a noted South Coast Repertory philanthropist, gave $4,600 to McCain.

Orange County raised about $9.8 million in campaign donations from individuals to federal candidates, PACs, and parties from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Romney alone has raised more than $1.2 million in Orange County, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Election Commission, and Rudy Giuliani has raised more than $1 million.

The area raises big bucks for Democrats too, officials said.

“California has always been known as the presidential ATM and Orange County is a big part of that ATM,” said Melahat Rafiei, executive director of the O.C. Democratic Party.

Barack Obama has raised about $250,000 in Orange County, and Clinton has raised a more than $500,000, Rafiei said.

Wealthy donors often encourage friends to give after making a hefty donation, Johns said.

Johns has thrown two fundraisers for Huckabee at his Back Bay home in recent months. The last soiree, the afternoon before the Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, raised about $100,000 for the candidate. Huckabee spoke to about 100 supporters about plans to keep taxes low.

“Once you give a large donation, you have something invested in that candidate,” Johns said.

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