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October 18, 2021

News West

West Coast News Network

Major Trump donors among those fueling Gov. Newsom recall effort

Backers of an effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom have raised more than $2.5 million, according to financial disclosures filed with the state through Tuesday. Political analysts say that’s approaching the minimum amount required to gather enough valid signatures to place the matter on the ballot.

Veteran Republican attorney Thomas Hiltachk, who served as the lead counsel on the successful 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis, said the groups attempting to oust Newsom need to raise a minimum of $3 million to $4 million total to be successful.

Hiltachk has not take a position on the Newsom recall. He noted that the financial figures that were disclosed by the three recall groups provide an incomplete picture. But based on what he is hearing about the signature-gathering and fundraising, Hiltachk thinks their odds for success have improved.

“I was pretty pessimistic about it back in December, but now I think it is quite possible that the recall qualifies for the ballot,” he said.

Despite California’s Democratic tilt, the state is home to wealthy GOP donors. The recall has also received some national attention, including fundraising by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The largest donor is John Kruger, an Orange County entrepreneur and education reform advocate who has given $500,000 through his Irvine-based Prov. 3:9 LLC. Kruger did not respond to a request for comment, but a representative previously told The Times that Kruger’s contribution was prompted by Newsom’s restrictions on religious gatherings because of the pandemic.

“Both Mr. Kruger and I believe that the Governor’s Executive actions prohibiting religious assembly and worship violated the constitutional rights of Californians to congregate and worship,” Thomas Liu wrote in an email to The Times in January.

Major backers of former President Trump donated substantial sums: Beverly Hills developer Geoffrey Palmer gave $150,000; Silicon Valley venture capitalist Douglas Leone and his wife, Patricia Perkins-Leone, contributed $99,800; and Northridge business owners Howard and Susan Groff added $75,000. (Leone renounced his support for Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.)

The recall also received $100,000 from billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, a major donor to Democratic politicians and causes. The former Facebook executive has said on Twitter that he wants to run against Newsom but has not made moves to launch a campaign.

Attempts to reach Palmer, the Leones, the Groffs and Palihapitiya were unsuccessful.

The fundraising figures reflect all financial activity through the end of 2020 as well as large donations disclosed during January to the California Secretary of State’s office, with likely duplicates and transfers between committees excluded. These numbers do not include donations of less than $5,000 since Jan. 1, which will be reported later this year.

Recall proponents said the amount of money they have raised shows they have the momentum necessary for the 1.5 million valid signatures needed to get on the ballot. (In reality, that means they need to gather as many as 2 million to account for duplicates and other invalid signatures.)

By the end of this week, they said, they will have mailed recall petitions to a total of 3.5 million households. About 200,000 volunteers are also collecting signatures outside big-box stores, restaurants and grocery stores.

The Secretary of State’s office reported in mid-January that about 720,000 signatures had been submitted to county elections offices, and about 410,000 of those had been validated. An update from state elections officials is expected in mid-February.

“We’re absolutely thrilled with the progress,” said Randy Economy, spokesman for the California Patriot Coalition, one of the three recall groups. “It’s been largely because of Gavin Newsom himself and his daily failures in how to manage or in his case mismanage the pandemic.”

Newsom’s political spokesman could not be reached for comment.

On Tuesday, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, an ally of the governor, launched an anti-recall digital ad campaign.

“We are not fighting the recall because we think that Gov. Newsom is perfect,” union president Sal Rosselli said. “We’re doing it because we know his actions against COVID-19 have saved countless lives, and that a recall would be an expensive and dangerous diversion from achieving everyone’s goal of ending the pandemic.”

More than 30 recall attempts have been launched against California governors, and only one has made the ballot — the successful 2003 effort against Davis.

Newsom, however, comes from a greater position of strength than Davis — based on the number of voters who put them in office and their respective popularity. California’s voters are far more likely to identify as Democrats today than they were 18 years ago and there isn’t an obvious Arnold Schwarzenegger waiting in the wings.

“It’s a very different state,” said Martin Wilson, a former senior advisor to Schwarzenegger who has not taken a position on the Newsom effort. Davis “barely got reelected. Most people gloss over the fact he wasn’t a particularly strong incumbent. The recall started and got a cash infusion, qualified and then, boom! Schwarzenegger hits the scene.”

Still, he also believes the recall’s chances have grown.

A new poll released Tuesday by UC Berkeley found more than one-third of the state’s registered voters said they would support recalling Newsom if the measure qualified for the ballot, and 45% said they opposed ousting him.

GOP fundraisers are counting on the once-in-a-lifetime crisis stemming from the coronavirus that has overwhelmed the state, and Newsom’s response to it, to carry them over the threshold. The pandemic has led to frustration across a broad section of Californians, including small-business owners dealing with the shifting state guidance over reopening and parents trying to balance work and their children’s schooling. The vaccine rollout has been flawed. And the state is grappling with billions of dollars in fraud in its unemployment system.

These factors, coupled with frustration over Newsom breaking his own rules last year when he attended a maskless indoor dinner at French Laundry, are motivating GOP donors, according to Seth Morrison, the executive director of the influential Lincoln Club of Orange County, which has contributed $78,500 to the recall effort.

“We’re feeling very confident, which is why we’re investing more money into it,” he said. “We’re on the 10-yard line right now. It’s looking very possible.”

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