May 14--An independent expenditure group called Spirit of Democracy California, funded almost exclusively by the son of Warren Buffett's billionaire business partner, has purchased $300,000 in television commercials to support a candidate in Ventura County's44th Assembly District.
Reports filed with the secretary of state this week show that the group funded by Charles Munger Jr. spent the money Monday for production costs and the purchase of television commercial time to promote the candidacy of Republican Mario de la Piedra, of Camarillo.
Munger, who spent more than $40 million on political campaigns in California two years ago, has been the major financial force in attempting to promote moderate Republican candidates in the state. In April, Munger donated just less than $1 million to the Spirit of Democracy group.
De la Piedra, owner of an insurance business, is one of two Republicans in the primary, competing against Rob McCoy, a conservative evangelical pastor from Newbury Park.
The top two finishers in the June 3 primary, regardless of party, will advance to the November ballot. Analysts believe it is likely that Thousand Oaks City Councilwoman Jacqui Irwin, the sole Democrat in the primary, will win one of the top two spots, leaving de la Piedra and McCoy to compete for the other.
Under state campaign finance law, independent expenditure groups can spend unlimited amounts of money in support of or opposition to a candidate, but may not communicate or coordinate their activities with the campaign organization controlled by the candidate.
"Clearly, Mario has made a very positive impression on the Republican leadership in California," said Jason Roe, strategist for the de la Piedra campaign. "People like Charles Munger see him as a standout. Mr. Munger's resources certainly make it easier to get Mario's message out."
Jonathan Wilcox, strategist for the McCoy campaign, said he is "not too worked up about" the infusion of outside money into his opponent's campaign. "Maybe Mario is the Blanche DuBois candidate, being dependent upon the kindness of strangers," he said, referring to the character in the Tennessee Williams' play "Streetcar Named Desire."
"The contributions that come from far away, I don't think they will have the impact some people think they will," Wilcox said.
Since the beginning of April, de la Piedra has been the beneficiary of more than $370,000 in independent expenditures. In addition to the $300,000 from the Munger-backed group, the California Chamber of Commerce's JobsPAC has spent $42,500, and GROW Elect, a group that supports Latino Republican candidates, has spent $30,500.
De la Piedra's campaign got off to a late start, as he entered the race in the week before the filing deadline. His campaign fundraising has lagged significantly behind that of McCoy.
As of the most recent reporting date, March 24, de la Piedra had just $32,530 in his account, compared to McCoy's $89,318. An updated report must be filed next week, but based on daily reports of large contributions, it appears the McCoy campaign has since increased its lead.
"I think the McCoy campaign likes where it is," Wilcox said.
Reports show that the McCoy campaign has also been the beneficiary of large contributions from afar. An analysis of McCoy's contributions shows that his campaign has directly received $16,800 from billionaire Texas brothers Dan and Farris Wilks and their wives. The Wilks family financially supports conservative Christian causes nationwide.
McCoy has also received $8,200 from the Kentucky-based political action committee controlled by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.
Under state law, contributions to a candidate-controlled campaign committee are limited to $4,100 per election cycle. Donors are allowed to contribute $4,100 for the primary campaign and another $4,100 for the general election campaign..
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