People from across the country are funding effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom

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Lara Korte, Sophia Bollag
·7 min read
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Vincent Page was outraged when he heard Gov. Gavin Newsom had banned singing California in churches.

“I was just incensed at the overreach,” said Page, an independent contractor from Pattison, Texas, a small town west of Houston. “I went searching for any and all information I could find about any effort that would get that guy out of office.”

What he found last summer was a small, relatively unknown campaign to recall Newsom, fueled, in part, by the governor’s executive actions aimed at fighting the pandemic. Part of Newsom’s crackdown on the virus included restricting indoor religious services, where people are likely to spread the virus.

Page gave $100. Then he gave $500. Then $1,000. By the end of 2020, Page had donated to the effort 15 times for a total of $6,400, according to campaign filings.

“Any governor who does not allow singing in churches deserves to be recalled,” Page said. “And I believe it’s our Christian obligation to help.”

The effort to recall Newsom started as a grassroots campaign led by a former Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant. Over the last year, it has grabbed the attention and support of the national Republican Party, national conservative leaders, and, according to state records, more than 240 people from outside California.

Campaign finance records show more than $200,000 has flowed from out-of-state donors into the two committees collecting for the recall, Rescue California and the Patriot Coalition. It’s a relatively small number compared to the more than $3 million the two committees have raised combined, but it signals the nation has its eyes on California’s embattled governor.

Some are willing to pay to see him gone.

“Just because people live outside of the boundaries of California doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in this particular recall,” said Randy Economy, spokesman for Recall Gavin 2020. “It’s the hot political story in America right now.”

Recall shifts national focus to California

Right now, the national attention is helping the effort raise money at a time when many experts say it needs a steady stream of donations to collect enough signatures.

State Sen. Josh Newman, the most recent California politician to be recalled, said he sees the recall transforming into a national story, with the potential to steal the national spotlight like the special Senate elections in Georgia did in January.

Democratic politicians and experts in California see recalls as an opportunity for Republicans to attack Democrats in special elections, where low turnout tends to favor the GOP. If the recall becomes a big enough political story, that strategy could backfire for Republicans, said Newman, who was reelected to his Senate seat in the 2020 general election.

“You could see something like that if the recall effort does get on the ballot in California, where Democrats all over the state will be motivated to beat this back, to show up and vote no,” he said. “It’s really a proxy for this larger fight of right versus left, red versus blue.”

Someone from nearly every state in the country has donated money to recall the California governor, excluding Delaware, Iowa, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The most frequent donations come from Texas, Nevada, Florida, Arizona and New York.

Most of the donors, 142, report that they are retired. Donations have come in as low as $25 and as high as $75,000. The most frequent donation is just $100.

Ron Jones, president of Mutual Medical Plans in Peoria, Illinois, donated $1,000 and said he disagrees with how Newsom has handled the pandemic.

“I think he’s an idiot,” Jones told The Sacramento Bee.

“I’ve got family that lives out there and they keep me up to date on what’s going on. He’s shut down and destroyed tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of small businesses and just ruined peoples’ dreams and hopes and businesses and lives.”

The biggest out-of-state spender, by far, is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. His federal political action committee, Huck Pac, has donated $100,000 to the cause. In November, Huckabee called Newsom “phonier than a vegan at a steakhouse,” and has repeatedly encouraged voters to sign the recall petition.

But once the measure qualifies, others say an out-of-state strategy could backfire in deep blue California by helping fire up Democratic voters.

Garry South, a Democratic political strategist, pointed to Huckabee’s donations, as well as promised funding from the National Republican Party, as an opening for Newsom.

“It just allows Newsom and his supporters to point out that this whole thing is driven by the national Republican Party,” South said. “If the recall qualifies, all of that is going to come back to bite them in the rear end.”

South said he had the same strategy in 2003 when he was fighting the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. The governor’s circle aimed to characterize the recall as a national effort, not a California one. But South said national Republicans helped thwart that strategy by staying out of the fray, at least publicly.

This time, they’re jumping in.

The Republican National Committee is donating $250,000 to the state Republican Party to encourage Californians to sign the recall petition. It’s only a matter of time before former President Donald Trump voices his opinion on the recall, South said, which will work in Newsom’s favor in a state where Trump lost by double digits.

“Hyper-partisan extremists in the Republican party have nationalized this,” said Dan Newman, a political consultant who works for Newsom. “Californians traditionally haven’t looked to folks like Newt Gingrich and Donald Trump for their political advice. The fact that this is completely funded and fueled by the most extreme wing of the Republican Party is likely to further turn off Californians against the recall.”

Poker, real estate and GoDaddy.com

Other top donors include Nevets Inc., a real estate development company from Wichita, Kansas that donated $25,000, according to state records. The Nevets company didn’t return a request for comment. Nevets appears to be one of more than 20 companies operated by Steven Enterprises, which owns several car dealerships across the midwest, a string of gyms, and Honda of Downtown Los Angeles.

Another $10,000 came in from Richard Salomon, a professional poker player who has owned property in Los Angeles, but listed his residence as Las Vegas when he donated in December. Salomon is well-known in Hollywood circles, having dated hotel heiress Paris Hilton in the early 2000s, and having twice married “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson. As of February, his public gambling earnings are estimated to be about $9.9 million.

Bob Parsons, the founder of the website hosting platform GoDaddy, kicked in $5,000, according to records. Parson, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, said the donation was “a gesture of support for my many friends in California who believe they are unnecessarily suffering under his pandemic management policies.”

“And for the record, I’m a registered Independent,” Parsons said in a statement.

George McGraw, a retired executive from Corsicana, Texas, donated to the recall three times for a total of $850. He’s donated to California political campaigns in the past, and said he heard about the recall because he got an email asking him to pitch in.

McGraw doesn’t want to see liberal California policies spreading to other parts of the country, he said, citing high taxes, sanctuary cities, and the recent controversial push by San Francisco school board members to remove the names of presidents from schools.

“We are a country, and things cross state lines, and we’re not individual, isolated areas,” he said. “So I think it’s quite appropriate to send money across state lines if you don’t agree with things.”