Attorney General Jerry Brown announced Friday that he raised $3.4 million in 2008 in advance of an expected bid for governor in 2010. That sum leaves Brown, a Democrat, perched above his two declared Democratic rivals, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who each reported raising on the order of $1.1 million last year.
Brown's haul, combined with leftover cash from his 2006 election, leaves him with $4.1 million cash-on-hand, a total that dwarfs the roughly $750,000 available to Garamendi and the $540,000 available to Newsom at year's end.
Why does the campaign cash matter? Because in a state the size of California, money pays for the political mailers and TV ads that are crucial to swaying large blocs of voters.
A healthy campaign treasury hardly guarantees victory (see Al Checchi, Steve Westly, and Bill Simon), but a lack of funds can often spell defeat.
The spin from all sides on the initial round of numbers has been fast and furious.
Newsom's campaign, which released its report earlier this month, touts that the mayor raised $1.179 million in only six months -- half the time Garamendi and Brown spent coaxing contributors.
Brown hasn't publicly said he is running for governor, but his behind-the-scenes jockeying has left little doubt among political observers.
Brown's campaign touts its low "burn rate" - the ratio of spending the money it raised.
The Brown operation has been largely a two-person show, the attorney general and his wife, Anne Gust. As such, Brown spent only a $172,000 in 2008, less than one-third of what Newsom or Garamendi spent.
Brown also raised his $3.4 million under the contribution limits for attorney general - not the bigger donations that official gubernatorial candidates can pull in.
The campaign team for Garamendi, who has been in politics since the 1970s and won statewide office three times, touts his "solid financial foundation" in the words of senior adviser Jude Barry. Garamendi raised just shy of $1.1 million across two campaign accounts.
"We need to raise enough money to be competitive, but because John Garamendi has run for statewide office before we don't have to be at the top of the pile for fundraising," Barry said.
And those are just the candidates actively raising money.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been mulling a bid for governor, while Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's name continues to make rounds in the political rumor mill.
Villaraigosa raised $2.7 million in 2008 for his reelection campaign as mayor, as he largely cleared the field of any big-name challengers for the March election.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell told Capitol Alert this week that he too is considering seeking the governorship, though raising enough money could prove a stumbling block.
He had roughly $830,000 in the bank as of last June, but was not actively raising funds.
"We're trying to put it together for governor, but it's just regrettable that it's so costly and so expensive and I'm not a multimillionaire," O'Connell said.
Photo: Attorney General Jerry Brown talks as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger listens during a news conference Wednesday Nov. 8, 2007. Credit: Sacramento Bee/ Brian Baer