The next Gold Rush is on. All across America, as politicians head into the setup year for the 2008 presidential election, candidates are singing "California, Here I Come," and jumping aboard airplanes headed for the Golden State.
As always, this state is the cash cow of American politics. It's not just presidential hopefuls who extract wads of money out of Californians, but candidates for the House and Senate, too.
As long ago as 1982, when former Vice President Al Gore was a lowly first-term Tennessee congressman hoping to win a nomination for the Senate seat once occupied by his father, he began building a base of contributors in California. As of last Oct. 1, the likes of Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, Virginia's George Allen and Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum each had pulled more than $500,000 from California pocketbooks for their Senate campaigns.
That's nothing compared to what presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton of New York ($3.8 million), John McCain of Arizona ($759,000) and possible candidate Evan Bayh of Indiana ($1.2 million) had reaped from their 2006 California sojourns.
These numbers will be dwarfed by what is raised here this year, as national campaigns get into gear.
Most prospective presidential candidates have already spent plenty of time here, laying their groundwork.
Clinton, along with 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold all campaigned with defeated Democrat Phil Angelides last fall during his futile run for governor. Republicans McCain, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani of New York all hit the hustings with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
All knew Schwarzenegger was sure to beat Angelides, but all wanted a major California politician in their debt, so they were willing to invest their time and energy.
You'd think with all those candidates - and many more - coming here to seek money, they might care a bit about California. But no, when it comes to getting anything done for this state in Washington, representatives of other states more often than not display an ABC (Anywhere But California) attitude.
That's why California still gets back just 79 cents in federal spending for every dollar its citizens put into the federal kitty. In all, taxpayers here plunk down $52 billion more each year than comes back to the state in highway funds, homeland security spending and even military expenses. What's more, whenever federal officials begin considering shutdowns of military bases, their lists always include more installations in California than anywhere else.
Maybe it's time some of the big political donors milked regularly by candidates from every other part of America attached some strings, at least informally, to their contributions. There would be nothing illegal in saying that they would give money only to candidates who take care of California.
But that's unlikely. For one thing, many of the largest California donors came here from other places to which they still maintain emotional and business ties.
For another thing, many donors are issue-oriented, not worried about which state gets federal jobs or other largesse.
According to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, 16 of the country's top 100 political donors live in California. That's about one-third higher than the state's proportion of the national population, making California a big target for anyone who needs money to use elsewhere.
Some donors will give to candidates who strongly back women's rights and abortion choice, like Clinton. Others look for solidly anti-abortion candidates like Santorum. Others seek national candidates dedicated to assuring the survival of Israel. Causes like global warming, energy independence and the protection of federal lands also draw issue-oriented candidates who don't care much about state lines. This helps explain why Californians give so much while their state gets short shrift in federal spending.
One thing about this year that's different, though, is that some of the campaign dollars raised here will likely be spent here. That should be one major effect of switching the California primary to Feb. 5, a change likely to become law this spring.
It's also reasonable to expect more political spending here in the fall 2008 runoff season than than we've recently seen. For Schwarzenegger has proven that Republicans can still win here, despite the fact that the state has gone Democratic in the last four presidential elections. This means whoever gets the Democratic nod will have to defend California's huge bloc of electoral votes, while Republicans suddenly have reason to think they might actually stand a chance here.
Elias is author of the bestselling book "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It." His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.