Despite big checks from tribes, state GOP struggles with debts

LOS ANGELES- The California Republican Party is struggling to get out of debt, creating a potential drag on voter registration and other party-building efforts in the midst of a heated campaign season, records showed Thursday.

As of last week, the state GOP's main account had a balance of $3.2 million but $3.4 million in unpaid obligations. The party's federal account - used to finance activities that support congressional candidates - listed a balance of $34,000 but nearly $460,000 in debts, according to records filed last month.

The shaky finances are due in large part to sluggish fundraising.

The party collected $5.6 million in contributions in its main account from Jan. 1 through Jan. 19. But virtually all of it came from a single source - wealthy Southern California Indian tribes donated $5.4 million to help finance an advertising campaign to win voter approval for expanding their gambling businesses.

A statement issued by the GOP didn't address the party's overall financial health.

Referring to donations from the Coalition to Protect California's Budget, a political arm of the tribes, GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said the party "has a responsibility to keep its membership informed about a wide variety of public policy issues and that includes communicating the party's official position on ballot measures."

The party is backing four proposals on the Feb. 5 ballot that would give the tribes 17,000 new slot machines - enough to fill eight Las Vegas-sized casinos. In exchange, the tribes would share profits with cash-strapped California, which faces a multibillion-dollar deficit.

The tribes - the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians near Temecula, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Cabazon and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation near San Diego - intend to spend as much as $80 million to push through the deals they reached with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-controlled Legislature.

Records show the party, bolstered by tribal funds, has already spent lavishly on TV ads to support the pacts.

Two of the party's major donors with ties to Schwarzenegger - American Sterling Co. CEO Larry Dodge and Paul Folino, chairman of computer-components maker Emulex Corp. - have agreed by next month to cover $3 million in party debt or arrange for repayment through affiliates.

But some activists complain not enough is being done to generate funds for the party in a critical election year.

Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative grassroots group, said the governor's dealmaking with Democrats in the Legislature hurt the party's image with donors.

"The governor just does not care about the party," Spence said.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund said she was puzzled by Spence's remarks. She noted the governor raised millions of dollars for the GOP in 2007.

"The governor has a good working relationship with the party," she added.

Republicans make up about 33 percent of California voters, compared to 43 percent for Democrats. Between February and December last year, the GOP lost more than 170,000 registered voters in the state. The Democratic decline in that period was about 69,000 voters.

"I don't know that any party is flush with cash," said Marin County GOP chair Morgan Kelley. "I'm sure we can use all the help we can get."

Poll: Clinton, McCain hold leads in California primaries

By The Associated Press

THE RACE: The Democratic and Republican presidential primaries in California


Hillary Rodham Clinton, 43 percent

Barack Obama, 28 percent

John Edwards, 11 percent

Dennis Kucinich, 5 percent

Undecided, 11 percent


John McCain, 29 percent

Mitt Romney, 17 percent

Rudy Giuliani, 10 percent

Mike Huckabee, 10 percent

Ron Paul, 5 percent

Undecided, 14 percent


Clinton's 24-point lead shrunk in the past month to 15 points as Obama picked up support. Clinton still leads among women and men, liberals and non-liberals. She holds a 3-to-1 edge over Obama with Hispanics. The Democratic candidates are tied among independents.

Republicans have a new front-runner in California since last month's poll. Support for McCain has spiked by 18 points, while support for former front-runner Giuliani has dropped by 14 points. McCain is the favored candidate of women, men and voters who classify themselves as non-conservative. Meanwhile, conservative Republicans are divided between McCain, 22 percent, and Romney, 19 percent.

The Public Policy Institute of California survey was conducted from Jan. 13-20. The margin of sampling error for the 543 likely voters in the Democratic presidential primary was plus or minus 4 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for the 348 likely voters in the Republican presidential primary was plus or minus 5 percentage points.


Public Policy Institute of California:


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