In the race for the 35th District Assembly seat, a Democratic challenger with a modestly funded campaign is attempting to unseat a popular Republican incumbent with a colossal amount of cash from a long list of corporate donors.
As the Nov. 4 election approaches, two-term incumbent Katcho Achadjian far eclipses challenger Heidi Harmon in money raised and spent. But Harmon’s campaign has seen a more than 80 percent increase in cash since July 1, according to financial disclosures released Monday.
Still, Harmon’s campaign fund represents only about 16 percent of Achadjian’s stockpile.
The district covers San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties.
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Achadjian entered the latest filing period, between July 1 and Sept. 30, with $228,990 in his campaign committee. Since then, he's raised $89,200 for a total of $181,750 since Jan. 1. He spent $59,356 since July 1, for a total of $163,534 in expenditures. He now has $260,280 remaining in cash.
Notable contributors to Achadjian’s campaign since July include major corporations — Pacific Gas & Electric Co., General Motors, AT&T, McDonald’s, Koch Industries Inc., PepsiCo — as well as numerous law enforcement, real estate and trucking associations.
In the latest filing period, Achadjian’s largest donor was the California Real Estate Political Action Committee with $8,200, followed by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians with $4,100 each, PG&E with $3,100 and Southern Wine & Spirits of America Inc. with $2,500.
In contrast, Harmon entered July with $2,687 on hand and has since raised $26,182, including a $10,000 loan from Arroyo Grande green building contractor Tom Murray. All told, since Jan. 1, Harmon has raised $30,248 and spent $13,151, with $11,918 spent since July 1. As of Sept. 30, Harmon had $16,951 remaining in cash.
Harmon’s contributors include San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Atascadero Democratic Club, which is her largest non-individual contributor with a $500 donation.
Several residents have contributed upwards of $500 to her campaign as well.
Large corporations contributing to state-level candidates is nothing new, but the amount of money they’ve been willing to part with has increased nationwide in recent years, said Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner.
“When you look back at previous elections, these are the same groups that have supported (Achadjian) in the past,” Latner said. “What is different is the amount of money they’re spending.”
But Latner said it’s not a party issue; corporate donors fund campaigns for Republicans and Democrats more or less equally. In the 35th District Assembly race, however, corporate contributions clearly favor the incumbent.
“Achadjian is certainly favored in the election, so that begs the question of why they are putting so much money into his campaign,” Latner said. “It’s not necessarily about winning the election — it’s about the legislation that follows.”
There will be one more campaign disclosure release — Oct. 23 — prior to the Nov. 4 general election.