Gov. Jerry Brown has big plans for next year's ballot: tax increases, pension changes and a funding guarantee for local law enforcement.
But he isn't raising money for those causes. In a state where governors typically collect millions of dollars in campaign donations in their first 12 months in office, the Democratic governor raised about $45,000 through June. Since then, he has reported another $64,000.
Not since 1983, when Gov. George Deukmejian collected $37,000, has a first-year governor raised so little money.
Gov. Pete Wilson raised $2.6 million in his first year, 1991. Gov. Gray Davis raised $13.2 million in 1999, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger raised $28.8 million five years later. Davis was strapping up for re-election, while Schwarzenegger pushed most of his money into a series of first-year ballot measures, ultimately successfully.
Brown, a proficient fundraiser when he wants to be, has hardly tried. On Wednesday he reported one of his largest single-day hauls in months, raising a relatively trivial $30,000 from three labor groups, a law firm and a lawyer at a reception in Orange County last month.
"He's been focused on the work of governing," said Steve Glazer, Brown's political adviser. "Political matters like fundraising have taken a back seat."
Yet Brown is forming a political agenda that will require funding. He is seeking to place constitutional amendments on the November 2012 ballot to reduce pension benefits and guarantee ongoing funding for counties assuming part of the state's prison workload. He is also expected to propose tax increases.
John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said Brown is "busy being governor" and that no one is "upset with Jerry, you know, not running around raising money."
Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, said he isn't "losing sleep over it."
Low said, "We're sort of waiting to see what he comes out with, and if he comes out with anything for next year … I would imagine that if he decides to move something forward, he will have the capacity to raise money."
If Davis and Schwarzenegger proved anything, it is that incumbent governors – typically enjoying high public approval ratings in their freshman years – can raise large amounts of money quickly.
Brown has about $5 million left over from his gubernatorial campaign, but he has said he might not use any of that money for a tax measure. When asked this fall about law enforcement funding, Brown said, "We'll have to raise money the old-fashioned way. You ask people, dial for dollars."
The fundraising climate in 2012 could be difficult. President Barack Obama's re-election campaign will be tapping Democratic donors. Labor unions that spent millions of dollars propping up Brown's gubernatorial campaign in 2010 expect to fight their own battles next year, with proposed pension changes and a "paycheck protection" measure looming.
"If he's going to go to the ballot, he's going to need a lot of cash, and he can't count on the teachers and unions to bail him out," said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and former speechwriter for Wilson. "He needs to stake out his position, and probably do it rather soon, which means get an aggressive fundraising team and get some aggressive campaign committees, get them going."
Anemic off-year fundraising isn't out of character for Brown, governor before from 1975 to 1983. At the end of 1975, Brown reported raising just $6,426 during the previous six months and had $31,984 on hand.
In his first year as attorney general, in 2007, Brown raised about $23,000. It wasn't until September 2009 that he opened an exploratory committee to run for governor, though by that time he had at least $7.4 million on hand for the effort.
Brown has not yet said if he will run for re-election in 2014, but Glazer said he expects him to.
"It's my belief and expectation that he will run for re-election," Glazer said, "and he will have a robust bank account to compete successfully."
Garry South, a Democratic strategist who was critical of Brown in the 2010 campaign, suggested waiting to raise money may burden other Democratic interests.
"It takes four years to raise the money necessary to run for governor in this very expensive mega-state," he said. "If you don't go out and raise the money, you put Democrats, labor allies and the Democratic Party itself on the hook for basically subsidizing you. That's what happened in 2010."
In one area, Brown's fundraising remains robust. Since winning election a year ago, donors have contributed about $2.6 million at his behest to two charter schools he started when he was mayor of Oakland. The sum is higher than the previous year, when he raised $2.3 million for the schools, but slightly less than Brown raised for them in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The schools, Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts, both reported significant improvement in test scores in the state's most recent assessment.