A venture capitalist from Menlo Park has surged past two political veterans in the race for campaign fundraising, all but ensuring a tight three-way primary-election contest for Ira Ruskin's seat in the state Assembly.
Joshua Becker, whose campaign for Ruskin's seat is a little more than three months old, has received $219,643 in campaign contributions, according to financial statements filed Monday. His two opponents in the Democratic primary, San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon and former Palo Alto Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, have raised $195,360 and $161,464 as of Dec. 31, respectively.
Becker took the lead in the fundraising race despite being the only political newcomer in the race. A venture capitalist who calls himself an "innovation Democrat," Becker is banking on Silicon Valley support to get into Ruskin's seat in the 21st District, which includes 13 cities from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Ruskin will be termed out at the end of this year.
Gordon has received much of his support from San Mateo County attorneys, realtors and labor leaders. Kishimoto has relied on checks from local environmentalists, politicians and neighborhood leaders. Becker has been boosted by the district's high-tech sector. His more than 300 contributors include many technologists and CEOs, including professionals from such firms as Google, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Apple and Cisco.
Becker, who sits on the University of California Board of Trustees, said he has received most of his support from people who have worked with him in the fields of clean technology and education. His contributors include executives from companies such as TerraPass, Saber es Poder, and Renewable Funding -- companies in which Becker's venture firm, New Cycle Capital, had invested. They also include an assortment of University of California executives and Bay Area venture capitalists.
Unlike his opponents, Becker hasn't held an elective office in the 21st District. But he isn't completely new to politics. In May 2008 Becker co-founded the group Cleantech and Green Business Leaders for Obama, which brought environmentalist leaders together to support Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Like Obama, Becker is hoping to attract supporters with the promise of change.
"What people are hungering for are new ideas and new approaches in California," Becker told the Weekly Monday. "People are kind of fed up and disappointed."
Gordon also presents himself as a "change" candidate, even as he emphasizes his decades of public service in San Mateo County. Gordon, who officially announced his candidacy last March, is currently in his 12th year on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and has previously served on the county Board of Education.
On his campaign website, Gordon calls for government reform, including the abolition of a law that requires two-thirds approval in the Legislature for passing the state budget. He also calls for increased education spending and universal health coverage for California's children.
Gordon's list of endorsements includes U.S. Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Jackie Spier, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, and a long list of local officials. Most of his endorsers and contributors are from cities such as Redwood City, San Mateo and Menlo Park. They include Palo Alto City Council members Yiaway Yeh and Gail Price.
But Gordon's campaign also received $7,800 in contributions from the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 467 and six $3,900 checks from attorneys in the Burlington-based law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.
Kishimoto, who served on the Palo Alto City Council for eight years before reaching her term limit in November, has her base of support in Santa Clara County. She referred to herself as a "grassroots candidate" and said she is not daunted by the fact that she is now trailing Becker and Gordon in campaign fundraising.
Kishimoto's campaign chest has been bolstered by a $65,000 loan she had made to her campaign. She has received fewer four-figure checks than her two Democratic opponents, but has earned the support from council members, neighborhood groups and local officials from all over the Peninsula.
Kishimoto, who had organized the Peninsula Cities Coalition focusing on high-speed rail, said she's confident her background in business, clean technology, transportation and land use will ultimately lift her past her two opponents. Her list of supporters includes most current Palo Alto City Council members and mayors of Menlo Park, Los Altos, Belmont and Sunnyvale. She also said she is in the process of putting together a signature drive in hopes of widening her base of support.
"I think the numbers are close enough that they will make me a little more hungry for more fundraising," Kishimoto said. "I think the race is very, very competitive."