When it was announced last month that America's richest community, measured by average per capita income, was Rancho Santa Fe, a flurry of stories appeared in the national media, most of which spun the woodsy little enclave of 5000 people as a bastion of political conservatism. "Mostly Republican," declared Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times.
And Rancho, as it is known to high-dollar real estate types who ply their trade along its dusky eucalyptus-lined byways, does have more than its share of Republicans, although not all of them are true-blue conservatives. When Vice President Dick Cheney came into town earlier this year, ostensibly to review the troops at Miramar Marine Air Station, he headed straight for the sprawling El Montevideo Street manse of Gerry Parsky for a secret fundraiser, reported only by the Washington Post months after the fact.
Parsky, an investment banker said to be a close buddy of George W. Bush himself, is also the president's chief liaison to the California Republican party, which, to the dismay of the state's conservative brethren, he has vowed to liberalize. His wife Robin -- an amateur horsewoman, dressed up in jodhpurs -- had, just before the bull-riding began, proudly rode her well-groomed mount around the arena as chairwoman of this spring's "Year of the Horse" extravaganza at the Del Mar National Horse Show. She was appointed to the Del Mar Fair board by Republican governor Pete Wilson.
With Rancho's average per capita income of $113,132, it would seem natural to assume that the Parsky family would be about as close to the left of the political spectrum as Rancho would tolerate. Other famous Republicans claiming the exclusive 92067 zip code include Art Laffer, the economist who popularized the "Laffer Curve" back in the days of Ronald Reagan; Helen Alvarez Smith, ex-wife of the late, disgraced San Diego banker and powerbroker C. Arnholt Smith; retired industrialist C. Neil Ash; car dealer Bob Baker; baseball-park contractor Doug Barnhart; Taco Bell founder Glen Bell; Cobra Golf founder and racehorse breeder Gary Biszantz; the widow of four-star admiral William F. "Bush" Bringle, Donnie Bringle; and brewer Joseph Coors.
All have contributed thousands of dollars to various Republican causes over the years. But the ranch has also lately seen its share of Democrats, and some have emerged as among the party's most generous and prolific donors. The pioneer and arguably the most famous among their ranks is Bill Lerach, the attorney who has made millions by targeting the boardroom follies of corporate America.
A friend of Bill Clinton, Lerach and his wife, Star Soltan, also a plaintiffs' attorney, have repeatedly opened their home on El Montevideo for big-money fundraisers. In September 1998, 80 donors paid $10,000 a couple to stand on Lerach's back patio and listen to the then-president lavishly praise his host after having heard Lerach denounce Ken Starr and his Whitewater investigation.
Though a federal grand jury investigation of his law firm, Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach, in connection with a jailed Beverly Hills doctor who claimed he was paid to be a client of the firm has cast a small shadow over Lerach's swashbuckling reputation, he shows no signs of slowing his frantic giving to Democratic causes. Last September 25, he gave $250,000 in so-called "soft money" to the Democratic National Committee's so-called Non-Federal Individual fund: the nonprofit wing of the party that is building a new national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
In December of last year, he gave $5000 to the Mainstream America Political Action Committee, which distributes its money to various Democratic candidates and causes. His wife gave $6000 to Emily's List, the liberal women's-issues PAC, as well as $2000 each to Rahm Emanuel, a former Clinton staffer running for a House seat in Illinois; the Dan Blue Senate Committee in North Carolina; Charlie Rangel for Congress in New York; and San Diego congresswoman Susan Davis. She also gave $500 to the Women's Campaign Fund.
Lerach stuck mostly to senate races, giving $2000 each to South Dakota's Tim Johnson, New York's Charles Schumer, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Maryland's Joe Biden, all incumbent Democrats. Like his wife, he also gave $2000 to Rahm Emanuel and Dan Blue. In addition, he gave $1000 to Lois Combs Weinberg, seeking a senate seat from Kentucky.
But Lerach is not alone in Rancho Santa Fe's elite league of Democratic givers. Close on his heels are the nonhousehold names Lyle Turner and his wife Elizabeth Keadle, who live in a Las Montanas Street mansion with a four-car garage and a pool on about four acres. They have been playing a big role in the Iowa senate race of liberal Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin. They are also big backers of Massachusetts senator John Kerry and his presidential bid, and also have contributed to the PAC of Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman as well as to that of his former presidential running mate, ex-vice president Al Gore.
The 48-year-old Turner's interest in Harkin is not surprising, considering that he was brought up on a farm in Diagonal, Iowa. He later joined the Navy and ended up in San Diego, where he went to UCSD and later founded Invitrogen, a Carlsbad biotech lab supplier with about $625 million in annual revenues. The firm went public during the stock-market bubble and its founders and employees made millions on stock options. According to its website, "The Company manufactures and markets thousands of products and services that simplify and improve gene cloning, gene expression, and gene analysis techniques for corporate, academic and government entities."
This February, Turner gave $2000 to Citizens for Harkin and in March $10,000 to Iowa Senate 2002, a soft-money conduit supporting Harkin. Also in February, Turner contributed $1000 to Lieberman's Responsibility Opportunity Community PAC, which the senator uses to fund his political travel and to reward friendly members of Congress with campaign contributions. In January, Turner gave $5000 to the Leadership '02 PAC, formerly known as Friends of Albert Gore, Jr., Inc. Turner had also given the PAC $5000 in November 2001. (Last weekend, it was reported that Gore attended a fundraiser for the PAC at an undisclosed location somewhere in San Diego County.)