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Competitive Orange County House races draw big money in second quarter fundraising

Democratic House incumbents in Orange County are ramping up fundraising as they head into the 2020 election, according to financial reports posted this week with the Federal Election Commission. But a few Republican challengers raised nearly as much — or even more — in the second quarter of the year than the Congress members they’re trying to unseat.

The biggest local GOP haul for the quarter that started April 1 and ended June 30 came from Michelle Steel, who serves as a county supervisor and is challenging Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, in the coastal 48th District.

Steel took in $536,023 in funds after entering the CA-48 race one month into the second quarter. But that does include $100,000 that Steel gave to her own campaign, with 80 percent of the remaining funds from individual donors. She had $516,928 in cash on hand.

“The impressive fundraising report solidifies Michelle Steel in the top tier of Republican congressional challenger candidates in the country,” campaign spokesman Sam Oh said.

Rouda raised $775,491 in the second quarter, bringing his total haul this election cycle to $1.27 million. He reported $1.13 million in cash on hand, with nearly three quarters from individual donors. His camp pointed out that’s more than double the total of any challenger.

The only other candidate who reported fundraising in the CA-48 race this cycle was Republican Brian Burley, who has now raised $11,228.

Just behind Steel — or just ahead if you discount the $100,000 she loaned herself — in terms of GOP fundraisers in local House races was Donald Sedgwick, who is challenging Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, in the 45th District.

The Laguna Hills councilman took in $480,142 in donations in the second quarter, bringing his war chest this election cycle to $621,119. And that’s entirely from individual donors, with no reported PAC funds or loans. He’s spent more than $100,000, leaving him with $514,645 in cash.

Yorba Linda councilwoman Peggy Huang – another Republican challenging Porter – reported $169,791 in second-quarter fundraising, plus a $94,000 loan from her own pocket. She’s spent $181,052, leaving her with $82,738 in cash.

Mission Viejo mayor Greg Raths raised $211,870 in his bid to unseat Porter. He has $177,099 in cash.

Orange County Board of Education member Lisa Sparks reported $151,251 raised, with nearly all of that cash still on hand.

Ray Gennawey, a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s office, reported $73,120 raised, with nearly all of it from individual contributions.

Small business owner Brenton Woolwoorth reported $8,845 raised in the second quarter.

Porter, meanwhile, brought in more money in the second quarter than any local congressional candidate or targeted freshmen Democrat nationwide, with $1 million raised over the three-month period. More than 80 percent of that was from individual donors, with Porter reporting $1.2 million in cash on hand.

GOP challenger Young Kim raised more money in the second quarter than the House incumbent she’s trying to unseat, Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda. And she’s sitting on nearly as much cash as Cisneros heading into the third quarter.

The two faced off in a heated campaign last cycle over the 39th District, which includes northeast Orange County along with portions of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Former State Assemblywoman Kim lost the seat – left vacant following the retirement of 13-term Republican incumbent, Rep. Ed Royce – to Cisneros by 3.2 percentage points.

She’s challenging him again in 2020, and she raised $401,280 in the second quarter to Cisneros’ $318,085. Kim now has $381,814 in cash on hand to Cisneros’ $389,942.

While those close figures might worry some incumbents, Cisneros won a $266 million lottery in 2010 and used $9 million of his own money to fund his previous run, which makes him less dependent on outside contributions than many other candidates. But another issue might prove more problematic for Cisneros’ 2020 campaign.

While the congressman’s campaign continues to slam Kim for taking money from political action committees, fundraising reports show Cisneros actually accepted more money from PACs this election cycle.

He received $151,309 from PACs in the second quarter and $256,859 so far this year, including committees dedicated to various labor unions, the sugar industry, animal welfare and supporting Israel.

Those donations are coming despite Cisneros repeatedly pledging before he was elected not to accept any PAC money, with his criticism over how corporate and special interest money corrupts politics a central issue of his 2018 campaign.

When questioned about this contradiction, his campaign spokesman Orrin Evans said Cisneros had committed not to take “corporate PAC money” – a promise he’s upheld. But when asked about Cisneros’ 2018 tweets and videos showing him pledging to refuse all PAC money, Evans deferred to a written statement that didn’t address that question.

Meanwhile, Kim seems to have taken a page from Cisneros’ playbook this time around. While she got slammed last cycle for taking donations from committees tied to the NRA and tobacco, she didn’t post fundraising from any particularly controversial PACs this cycle. And 87 percent of her contributions were from individual donors, compared with 49 percent of donations from individuals for Cisneros.

Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, took in $503,117 last quarter as he looks to the 2020 race for the 49th District, which includes southern Orange County and northern San Diego County. That brings the former environmental attorney’s total fundraising this cycle to $946,107, with more than three-quarters of that total from individual donors. And it leaves him with $959,802 in cash on hand.

San Juan Capistrano mayor Brian Maryott, a Republican who wants to unseat Levin and who ran in the primary last year, raised $110,797 this quarter. That brings his total war chest this cycle to $406,535, which includes $250,000 of Maryott’s own money that he gave to his campaign in the first quarter. The rest of his funds are all from individual donors, leaving him with $288,433 in cash on hand.

Republican Mara Fortin, who owns Nothing Bundt Cake franchises in San Diego County, announced she was entering the CA-49 race earlier this summer. But she abruptly ended her campaign a few weeks later, with federal records showing she refunded last quarter’s $19,970 in donations.

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, raised $187,888 in the second quarter in his bid to hang onto central Orange County’s 46th District. That’s up from $103,212 raised in the first quarter, bringing his total this election cycle to $291,100.

Nearly 80 percent of those donations came from political committees, including PACs that represent Amazon, AT&T, Edison, gun safety groups and more. With money rolled over from the 2018 campaign, Correa is sitting on $836,616 in cash.

GOP challenger James Waters reported $575 in fundraising for the heavily blue district seat.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier, took in $147,339 in contributions in the second quarter toward her fight to keep her seat in CA-38, which is primarily in Los Angeles County but touches part of Orange County. That’s up from $97,870 in the first quarter, bringing her fundraising total this cycle to $245,209, with 85 percent from political action committees.

With funds rolled over from previous cycles, Sanchez ended the second quarter with $771,598 in cash on hand.

No one has filed to challenge Sanchez in CA-38.

Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, took in $99,210 in donations and spent $49,625 during the second quarter in his bid to keep his seat representing CA-47, another solidly blue district which includes parts of north Orange County. Nearly 86 percent of Lowenthal’s donations came from political committees, and he reported $596,296 in cash going into the second quarter.

Two Republicans recently entered the race against Lowenthal: Sou Moua and Amy Phan West. Both joined after the second quarter ended, so they haven’t yet reported any fundraising.