Insurance Commissioner candidate Steve Poizner. speaking to CPAC in 2010. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons.

In summary

Insurance commissioner candidate Steve Poizner is shunning partisanship in his bid to become the first no-party-preference candidate to win statewide office in California. But he is raising much of his campaign money from donors who gave to him when he ran for governor as a Republican.

Insurance commissioner candidate Steve Poizner is shunning partisanship in his bid to become the first no-party-preference candidate to win statewide office in California. But to pay for his campaign, the former Republican has turned to people he knows best when it comes to raising money: Republicans.

Poizner dropped his Republican registration before embarking on the current campaign. He’s not alone. GOP registration has fallen below 25 percent of the California electorate.

“I really, really want to stay out of partisanship,” he said. “If I can win, that will open the door to lots of other people who will run for office. That will be a great thing.”

The wealthy tech entrepreneur has given his campaign more than $1 million and has raised another $1.233 million from campaign donors.

Of that latter sum, at least $224,000 or 18 percent has come from contributors who gave to his 2010 run for governor, when he ran as a Republican, a review of his campaign finance reports show.

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Poizner was a Republican when he was elected as insurance commissioner in 2006, and in 2010 when he ran to the right of billionaire Meg Whitman, who won the primary but lost the general election to Jerry Brown.

In the 2010 primary, Republican Congressman Tom McClintock of Elk Grove endorsed Poizner, cutting a television ad in the 2010 primary: “This time, let’s have a governor from the Republican wing of the Republican Party—Steve Poizner.”

Among the donors who have given to his current race and his 2010 run for governor are former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles investor Bradford Freeman and vintner Don Sebastiani.

In the current race, Poizner has accepted $5,000 from Edward Atsinger III, head of the Camarillo-based Salem Media Group, a leading conservative media company, and $1,000 from Howard Ahmanson Jr. Ahmanson and Atsinger long have been major donors to conservative candidates in California.

“The reason why my donors are mainly Republican donors is because those are the ones who I know,” Poziner said. “But I am super-clear with all my donors. I am an independent. You might not like that. I’m running as an independent because it is a good fit for that office.”

Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat running against Poizner, said the GOP donors “show who he really is.”

“Democrats know this is potentially a new Republican strategy, running candidates as independent to see if they can win statewide,” Lara said.

In 2018, Poizner is going so far as to decline to say whether he’s voting for Republican John Cox or Democrat Gavin Newsom for governor.

“I’m not supporting anybody for any position. I haven’t really gone there in my own head. I don’t want to get involved in anything partisan. I really don’t,” Poizner said.

In 2010, Cox, then living in Florida, contributed $1,000 to Poizner for governor, though he has donated nothing to the insurance commissioner candidate in his latest run.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.