Democratic activists in California complain that the swelling field of presidential candidates is treating the Golden State like a political ATM – charging thousands of dollars for the same access given freely in other venues. While some activists have complained privately to the candidates’ representatives, they concede that they don’t see any immediate letup in the kind of barnstorming that raised $184 million for Democratic presidential candidates in 2004. “It’s always like that. We’re like one big ATM,” said Louis F. Moret, a former Democratic National Committee member and longtime party activist. “Everyone wants to win Iowa and New Hampshire, so they take our money and spend it over there.” Democratic activist Agi Kessler of Woodland Hills also laments that when the candidates get to Iowa and New Hampshire, voters in those states have easy and ample access to them in the early stages of the nominee selection process. “Often here in California, to have access to the candidates, you have to go to fundraisers – and usually those are big-money fundraisers,” said Kessler, first vice-chair of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, an umbrella organization of 25 local Democratic clubs. “I’m personally not poor, but I can’t afford to pay a couple of thousand dollars to meet a candidate in a situation where maybe you’ll get your picture taken with them but not have a chance to converse, while in Iowa these same candidates are tripping over themselves to meet the voters.” Jaime Regalado of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles, said the dubious tradition of presidential candidates using California to raise large sums of money while voters get little in return stems from two developments unique to the state. “California is the most populous state in the country whose (presidential) primary historically has come so late that it rarely counts because usually the nominee has been decided before it’s held. “On other hand, we have some filthy rich people in the Southland and Northern California and in the Central Valley, so that candidates, if they want to be competitive, cannot ignore California’s ATMs.” This situation has led to calls from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ez and other political leaders for moving the 2008 primary up from June to Feb. 5 – right after Iowa, as well as primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada on Jan. 19. Such a move would place California a month earlier than in 2004 when it also moved up the primary to March, though even that date proved to be too late because the party’s nominee had effectively been chosen. The presidential election season has already begun in earnest, with supporters paying the maximum allowable $2,300 to meet presidential candidate Barack Obama, the Illinois senator, during a Feb. 20 event at the landmark Beverly Hills Hotel. Those pledging to raise $46,000 are invited to dine with Obama at mogul David Geffen’s beachfront home in Malibu, along with director Steven Spielberg and producer Jeffrey Katzenberg. Spielberg and other entertainment contributors are co-hosting a fundraiser for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the spring, according to her presidential campaign. Those scenarios will be repeated over and over the coming months with other celebrities holding fundraisers for other candidates in Southern California. Meanwhile, party loyalists complain that issues important to California voters – health care, immigration, traffic congestion, the environment – largely go ignored by presidential candidates during the primary period. “They hope somebody else solves it for us,” Moret said. “They just want to take our money. We’re a donor state, and that’s not right.” [email protected] (818) 713-3761160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!