How Rick Caruso Spent $23.78 Million on His Mayoral Campaign

Cityside Column: TV ads! High-priced consultants! Flowers! A look at where the money went

The most important date on the mayoral election calendar is June 7, when hundreds of thousands of Angelenos will cast their ballot. That said, Thursday, April 28, will also go down in history: It’s the day Los Angeles learned that mall developer Rick Caruso had already spent a gobsmacking $23.78 million on his effort to succeed a termed-out Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Is gobsmacking the right word? I’m not sure. Astounding underplays his appetite for shelling out cash. Ludicrous doesn’t come close. Combine stupefying, breathtaking and unnerving and it all still feels like 23 million somethings short.

Los Angeles has never seen anything like this. The last time there was a competitive mayoral election, in 2013, all the candidates combined spent $16.6 million in the primary. The $23,778,243.30 that Caruso dropped since launching his campaign on Feb. 11 is, according to disclosures filed with the City Ethics Commission, more than double the $11.58 million in expenditures from the entire field in the 2005 primary.

Most of the funds came from the mall master himself. Ethics Commission filings (for the period through April 23) show that Caruso has loaned his campaign $22.5 million so far.

How did Caruso spend his money? Fortunately, the Ethics Commission makes it easy to answer that, as individual transactions are posted on its website.

As everyone knows, Caruso bought TV ad time in the last two months like he was scared that broadcasting would soon be outlawed. The disclosure forms reveal six-figure spend after six-figure spend, and he spread the love. On April 21 alone, his media strategists spent $321,610 on ads on KABC; $224,017 with KCBS; $121,337 on KTLA; $192,767 on KNBC; $76,989 on KTTV; and $39,907 on KCAL. Pity poor KCOP, which that day received just $7,514.

It’s not just TV. That same day, ad buys went to dozens of radio stations, including KLVE ($11,679), KRTH ($10,057), KFI ($9,860), KIIS-FM ($9,527), KLAX ($7,523) and KFWB ($2,338).

That is just the start, as mega-bucks ad purchases were happening weekly. In addition to KABC’s April 21 buy, the station fetched $225,016 on April 14 and $365,245 in the week of April 8, and checks flowed in previous weeks as well. KCBS and KTLA are among the stations whose viewers Team Caruso also repeatedly wanted to reach.

Caruso’s commercials have been everywhere, and if he couldn’t catch you while watching TV, he’d chase your eyeballs online. Between Feb. 15 and April 19, there were three different spends for digital ads on Facebook, for a total of $473,529.

Facebook was big, but Google was even bigger. The disclosure statements reveal a trio of digital ad buys with the Mountain View, Calif. company. These went into the seven figures, accounting, collectively, for $1,111,094.

Was there more? Yes! Disclosures show that on April 19 the Caruso campaign spent $75,000 on digital ads with the L.A. Times, and $144,000 on ads with Pandora. Also that day, Yahoo received an order for $129,092, and Univision got $120,253.

Even Los Angeles enjoyed some of the largesse, though it was a pittance compared with the big spends: There was a $25,000 digital ad buy on March 30.

There are all sorts of ways to get paid, and a plethora of people and consulting shops have been making bank. Bearstar Strategies, the powerhouse San Francisco political strategy firm, appears in disclosures multiple times, including receiving a pair of $298,800 commissions.

The designation “campaign consultant” comes up dozens of times for a slew of others who are working on Caruso’s behalf.

The Angelenos who answered questions for the copious Caruso polls will not be surprised to learn that $89,500 was spent on “polling and survey research”; the check went to New York’s Global Strategy Group on April 5. Caruso likely got on the ballot in part due to the more than $22,000 that went to “petition circulating.”

Virtually anything you can think of appears. Four different payments, worth a total of $455,204, flowed to the New Jersey firm Westerleigh Concepts for what is described as “campaign literature and mailings.” The Santa Ana business Scale to Win received $72,767 on April 14 for what the disclosure statements label “texting services.” The Austin, Texas business Bumper Active received $150,000 in orders for yard signs.

The U.S. Postal Service is also enjoying the benefits of the Caruso campaign—after all, someone has to deliver all those mailers. The disclosure statements list four payments totaling $637,452.

Some of the spending is more curious. On April 23 the campaign shelled out more than $1,200 to the florist Petals by David. The disclosure statements list flowers for Irena Medavoy, Shannon Mabrey Rotenberg and two others.

Perhaps the most staggering thing about the financial reveal is that it only accounts for spending through last Saturday. There are still more than five weeks until primary day. With so many voters in play, there are still so many checks to write.

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