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Buried Treasure: California Politicians Stash $35 Million in Leftover Cash


PUBLISHED DEC 21, 2022 12:17 P.M.

  Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

By ALEXEI KOSEFF and  BEN CHRISTOPHER, CalMatters

It has been nearly eight years since Bill Lockyer held elected office in California.

For more than four decades, he climbed the ranks of state politics—Assembly member, Senate leader, attorney general, treasurer—before ending a campaign for controller amid turmoil in his marriage and retiring at the start of 2015.

Nevertheless, Lockyer still has more than $1 million in a campaign account for the 2026 lieutenant governor race. Every month, he pays $2,500 to consultant Michelle Maravich, who said she helps maintain his donor list, manage meetings and appearances, and provide advice on occasional contributions to other candidates as the 81-year-old Democrat contemplates a comeback.

“He misses the public arena and obviously still wants to be of service,” Maravich said. “I haven’t seen him lose a step.”

Lockyer’s seven-figure war chest is among the largest of nearly 100 accounts belonging to state political candidates with leftover campaign cash, according to a CalMatters analysis of California campaign finance records. Collectively, they hold about $35 million — funds that never got spent on the campaigns for which they were raised — ranging from $13.1 million that former Gov. Jerry Brown didn’t need to win re-election in 2014 to $9.62 in the account for a failed Assembly run that same year run by investment manager Thomas Krouse.

CalMatters counted campaign funds for the Legislature and state constitutional offices that politicians are sitting on years after leaving their positions, that are in committees for past races or for which the candidate did not end up running. These 96 accounts rarely raise new money, and in some cases, politicians have carried the same leftover contributions through election cycle after election cycle, transferring the money to new committees for positions they never actually sought.

The total does not include committees for candidates who ran in 2022. Those who lost in the June 7 primary have not yet had to file paperwork declaring what they did with any leftover campaign cash, while the deadline is still three months away for candidates who made it to the Nov. 8 general election to decide their next move.

Some of the politicians holding onto past campaign contributions are simply waiting to figure out their next race, at which point they may tap into those eligible funds. Others are using the money to keep a foothold in the public arena, slowly spending down what’s left on political donations, charitable contributions and administrative expenses. Many of the accounts hold massive debts and must remain open if the candidates ever plan to raise cash to pay off outstanding loans and bills. And some of the money is merely sitting idle, in accounts where nothing much goes in or out, save interest and annual state filing fees.

“Perhaps the lack of activity reflects my innate frugality,” said Mike Gatto, a Democrat who served in the Assembly from 2010 through 2016 and has almost $2.1 million in a lieutenant governor 2026 account, some of it from an abandoned campaign for state treasurer in 2018.

In the first half of 2022, the most recent period for which Gatto has filed a campaign finance report, he contributed about $2,500 to other candidates and earned nearly the same amount in interest.

Gatto said he typically raises money for candidates by turning to his donor list, rather than giving away his own leftover campaign cash, and he sits on the board of a family foundation that provides funding to charitable organizations. He is keeping his residual campaign funds for what he anticipates will be a return to politics in his retirement, after he finishes raising his three children.

“I hope there’s more in my future. I believe I can contribute to this beautiful state that we all call home,” said Gatto, who founded a law firm after leaving the Assembly. “I believe there’s a lot more freedom for people to run for office in their golden years.”

Read more of ‘Buried Treasure: California Politicians Stash $35 Million’ on CalMatters. This includes a searchable list of the 96 campaign accounts that are sitting on nearly $35 million in money raised to wage prior election battles.

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