Election Day is November 8—L.A.’s Donor Vote Is Happening Now

Cityside Column: A look at the cash raised by Los Angeles candidates in the first runoff reporting period
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In the campaigns that led up to the June primary giant gobs of cash were unspooled in Los Angeles. Although the $41.5 million dropped by shopping mall developer Rick Caruso caused eyeballs to bulge, scores of other candidates were also on lesser spending sprees. Altogether, the 60-plus candidates chasing a total of 11 jobs—that’s three citywide posts and eight council seats this year—raised more than $66 million and spent almost $75 million (including their city matching funds).

Now, after a summertime lull, it begins again.

Although four City Council contests ended when one candidate secured more than 50% of the vote, another four are on to the second round, with the top two finishers in each making the runoff—which is the same case in the races for mayor, city attorney, and city controller.

By Nov. 8, tens of millions more will be unleashed. For that to happen, almost everyone except Caruso will have to spend hours each day raising money. Those efforts are already underway and earlier this month the City Ethics Commission posted the fundraising totals through June 30. This is only the start—but even the initial cash haul reveals intriguing nuggets.

Big Bass Bucks

It is certain that billionaire Caruso will spend far more money than his rival, Rep. Karen Bass, who bested him in the primary by 7 percent. For now though, Bass has a money lead, even if it’s only because the mall man isn’t yet trying. According to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission, Caruso raised a grand total of nothing by the filing deadline of June 30. Bass secured about $253,000.

Digging into disclosure statements is always revealing. A total of 97 donors gave Bass the maximum individual amount allowed of $1,500. That includes entertainment honchos Jeffrey Katzenberg (who is also running an independent expenditure group for Bass), Alan Horn and Sherry Lansing; actor and activist Jane Fonda contributed $1,200.

Consider these the first drip drops in what will have to be a very big bucket—or maybe even a bathtub. Bass raised $3.65 million from donors in the primary. She needs at least that to make headway against the coming Caruso ad avalanche.

Lawyers and Dollars

The city attorney contest was a financial curiosity. Faisal Gill, who finished first on election day with 24.2 percent, reported raising almost $1.5 million, though only $310,000 came from donors. He loaned his campaign nearly $1.2 million, the biggest personal expenditure of any candidate not named Caruso. A progressive crowd that strongly supported Gill seemed happy to overlook him using his personal wealth.

Gill had three times the war chest of Hydee Feldstein Soto, who finished second with 19.9 percent. She pulled in $443,000, including a $50,000 loan.

Both have been slow to raise money in round two, but that is likely because it took weeks to count the primary votes, and for a while, it was uncertain who would reach the runoff. As of June 30, Feldstein Soto had $106,000, though that included a $75,000 loan. Gill had $15,500. The biggest question is whether he’ll open his wallet again.

Controlling the Money

The latest reminder that money can be trumped by effective organizing came in the city controller contest. District 5 Councilmember Paul Koretz raised $545,500, far surpassing the $218,000 secured by left-wing candidate Kenneth Mejia. But when the votes were counted in the race to be L.A.’s fiscal watchdog, Mejia surged well ahead of the long-term pol.

In the early stage of round two, Koretz again has a financial lead, with about $74,000 (including a $10,000 personal loan), compared with Mejia’s $34,000. Koretz’s max donors include a few unions and the owner of Pink’s Hot Dogs. As in round one, Mejia has a sizable number of smaller donations, including dozens for $214; the matching funds program helps candidates turn this into nearly $1,500.

How that works: The matching funds program gives candidates $6 for each $1 they raise for certain small donations from Angelenos, meaning that $214 generates an additional $1,284 in money from the city. Add it together and the respectable donation of two clams and the cost of a Sweetgreen salad then balloons to $1,498, or nearly the maximum allowed from a well-heeled donor.

Dollar Reversal

A key element to watch in runoff races is when the money train changes course from round one—donors want ties to the person they think will take the office. That’s what’s happening now in District 5. In the primary, Sam Yebri raised a stunning $854,000, eclipsing the still very strong $612,000 secured by Katy Young Yaroslavsky. After the votes were counted, Yaroslavsky stood just under the 50 percent needed to win outright.

It is early days still, but cash has started flowing to Yaroslavsky; she had $146,000 through June 30, ahead of Yebri’s $106,000.

Both candidates have extensive connections and plenty of people willing to give the maximum of $800 allowed in a council race. The sums will soar.

Cash by the Beach

As in the Controller’s contest, the race for the District 11 council seat, which includes Venice and other coastal communities, saw a progressive candidate finish first despite being vastly outspent. Erin Darling, who is spun from the left-leaning cloth of outgoing Councilman Mike Bonin, raised $84,000 and secured 34.7 percent of the vote. Traci Park earned 29 percent, despite raising almost $390,000.

Park has roared out of the gate in round two, pulling in $154,000; that includes more than 150 max contributions.

Darling raised about $16,500, including a $2,000 loan.

The Other Races

In the harbor headquarters of District 15, Tim McOsker, who finished first in round one after having a huge financial advantage, again made bank. He raised around $69,000 from donors and gave himself another $37,000, amounting to $106,000. Danielle Sandoval, who came in second in the primary, reported raising $1,663.

Neither of the finalists in District 13 did much in the early weeks. Incumbent Mitch O’Farrell, who finished second on election day with 31.65 percent, raised $3,250. Hugo Soto-Martinez, who is backed by a variety of left-leaning organizations, and garnered 40.6 percent of the vote in round one, pulled in about $1,900.

This race won’t be quiet for long and the next financial reports are due Sept. 29; we can expect to see much larger sums.

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