Republican county Supervisor Andrew Do is far outpacing Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez in fundraising as the two battle for Do's supervisor seat, according to a review of recent campaign finance filings.
Since his election to the seat in a January 2015 special election, Do has been a fundraising powerhouse, raising about $340,000 in money contributions, according to his filings.
Much of it has been given by attorneys, real estate executives, and companies who do business with the county. Other contributions have come from medical providers who work with CalOptima, the massive county health plan for low-income, elderly, and disabled people where Do maintains an influential board position.
In contrast, Martinez has reported raising just under $60,000 since she entered the race in February. Much of her funding has come from people and companies that do business with the city of Santa Ana.
The councilwoman says that while fundraising is important, there are other factors working in her favor.
"All I can say is that Andrew Do can out raise me but at the end of the day, this race is not going to be about how much money you raise but about your record and name ID," Martinez wrote in a text message to Voice of OC.
Do didn't return a phone message seeking comment.
The third significant contender in the race, Republican Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui, has reported loaning himself $152,000, as well as raising $20,000 in outside contributions.
Martinez has never been a strong fundraiser, bringing in just $33,000 for her 2014 City Council race, according to Chapman University professor Mike Moodian, who closely follows local politics.
“But she does have a voting base there that is loyal to her,” Moodian said, adding that Democrats have a significant voter registration advantage in the district, which covers the cities of Santa Ana, Garden Grove, and Westminster, as well as part of Fountain Valley and unincorporated Midway City.
The registration gap is in the double-digits, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 44 percent to 30 percent. But GOP candidates often benefit from the higher turnout by Republican voters in the area, who are more often Vietnamese and white.
That dynamic was at play in Do’s election as supervisor for this district last January. He won the seat in a low-turnout special election, by a razor-thin margin of just 43 votes over his Democrat opponent Lou Correa.
But Do will likely not have the advantage of low turnout among Latino Democrats in this year's primary and general elections, especially with the near-certainty of Donald Trump and his "build-a-wall" pledge capturing the Republican presidential nomination.
Yet as the establishment candidate, Do has a major advantage in fundraising and has been successful in the past, Moodian said.
“There are a lot of donors he can call who have given him money in the past. That’s very helpful. That helped him when he won last time, and I think that’s helping him right now as we can see, in terms of the drastic difference in…the amount of money raised,” Moodian said.
Do also has an incumbency advantage with voters, he added, while Martinez has been known to have a strong grassroots operation in Santa Ana.
A candidate can win the seat outright in the June 7 primary by winning more than 50 percent of the vote. But if no one meets that threshold, then the top two candidates will face off in November's general election.
A November runoff is highly likely given that Do has had to contend with Bui, a well-financed Republican challenger. Bui has attacked Do with claims that he illegally used county taxpayer money for self-promotional mailers and failed to report $35,000 in donations for a statue as campaign contributions.
Do has denied that the mailers were illegal, and the matter is now being investigated by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). But Bui’s attacks have brought financial costs to Do’s campaign, which recently paid for mailers counter-attacking Bui. That draws down on Do’s campaign funds that could otherwise be spent on other things.
But even with Bui in the race, Do enjoys a distinct spending advantage. The most recent reports show Do having $102,000 on hand, compared to just $31,000 for Martinez and $13,000 for Bui.
Do has also taken a cue from his colleague Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s playbook, and has been fundraising into a county Republican Party Central Committee account, which unlike supervisor accounts has no contribution limit.
He raised $17,600 into the Central Committee account in its first month, April, including $10,000 from Family Choice Medical Group, a doctors’ network that contracts with CalOptima.
Such a contribution would have been limited to $1,900 this election cycle if Do collected it in his supervisor account. But as Spitzer showed, funds raised into the Central Committee can legally exceed the supervisor limits and still be used for political purposes.
“It’ll be an interesting race to watch,” said Moodian. “It should concern Martinez that Do is out-raising her so substantially. But we will see what happens.”
Update: This story has been updated to include a statement Martinez sent after the article was published.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.