L.A. Mayoral Race Fundraising: Who’s Pulling in the Most Cash?

Huge sums are being raised, and spent, as pols and outsiders aim to succeed Eric Garcetti

The Los Angeles mayor’s race is about to shift into high gear. This is only partly because voters will soon learn if megamall developer Rick Caruso is joining the fray. Another reason is that the leading candidates are ready to spend wheelbarrows full of money.

Cash is the lifeblood of any campaign, paying for everything from TV ads to consultants’ contracts to pizza for volunteer phone bankers. That’s why candidates spend so many painful hours asking friends and supporters to write a check, preferably for the maximum $1,500 the city allows.

A crucial deadline was hit on Dec. 31, when candidates were required to update the City Ethics Commission on how much they raised and spent in the last half of 2021. The figures were just posted on the commission’s website.

Here are the highlights and some things to know about all that cash.

The Big Picture: Altogether $7.9 million has been dumped into the mayor’s race, and $2.5 million has been spent. Consider this still the early stage. With the primary election on June 7, the candidates will be raising and spending furious amounts in the effort to finish in the top two and advance to the November runoff.

The field is already more than halfway to eclipsing the $13.5 million raised in 2013, the last time there was a contested mayoral primary (Eric Garcetti had only token opposition in his 2017 re-election).

The spending will get stratospheric if Caruso indeed enters the race.

Bucks for Bass: U.S. Rep. Karen Bass joined the mayor’s race on Sept. 27, and in a little over three months raised $1,928,751, vaulting her into the cash lead, ahead of competitors who have been running for far longer. According to her campaign team, there were 3,755 donors, with an average contribution of $528.

The fun lies in who gives, and Bass’ war chest, according to Ethics Commission disclosures, contains donations from hundreds of attorneys. The word “consultant” pops up 161 times and more than 60 donors list their occupation as “writer.” She got checks from professors who teach at UCLA, USC, Cal State-L.A. and Notre Dame Law School. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook parent company Meta gave $1,500, as did Edythe Broad, the philanthropist and widow of the late Eli Broad.

Although the entertainment industry usually keeps its distance from local politics, Bass apparently has bundlers with extensive Hollywood connections. Those who donated $1,500 include Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner, Disney co-chairman Alan Horn and J.J. Abrams. Married couple William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman both maxed out.

So did Philip Lord, the director of films including The Lego Movie. I can only wonder if a Lego Karen Bass is in the works.

The Tally
: As of Dec. 31 Bass had spent $498,000, and had about $1.6 million in cash on hand.

Kevin in Seven (Figures): Bass is getting the lion’s share of the attention, but District 14 Councilmember Kevin de León also had an extremely strong fundraising period, scooping up $1.23 million. It took him about 100 days to get there, as de León entered the race on Sept. 21.   

Like other leading candidates, his donations poured in from a plethora of fields and people, with physicians, business executives, architects, consultants and others maxing out. The former president of the California Senate got $1,500 checks from Downtown real estate developers (his district includes DTLA), and local restaurateurs, teachers and bar owners all gave. He received $1,500 from state Sen. Ben Allen, and $500 from a welder. The disclosures include $250 from someone identified as an Uber driver, and there is a max donation from a person listed as the owner of an “auto spa,” which I had no idea is a thing.

The Tally
: With $161,000 spent, de León has $1.16 million in cash on hand.

All for Lall: When Central City Association President and CEO Jessica Lall entered the race in September, some observers wondered if she could compete financially with the established pols. While she didn’t hoover up cash like Bass and de León, she had a more-than-solid performance, raising $404,000. Like several other candidates, Lall is in line to augment her contributions by securing matching funds, which is basically free money the city gives out.

Not surprisingly, Lall has copious donations from people active in DTLA, including many in the real estate development field. Architects and attorneys show up frequently in her disclosure forms. While she lacks the Hollywood donors that Bass claims, Lall does have $1,000 from the Los Angeles Football Club. Insert your own “goalllllll” reference here.

The Tally
: $221,000 spent, $263,000 in cash on hand.

Adding to Their Totals: District 15 Councilmember Joe Buscaino burst out of the gate when he announced his candidacy last March, and raised $818,000 by June 30. He didn’t perform as well in the last six months, but he still operated a steady fundraising machine, pulling in $373,000, for a total of $1.19 million. Buscaino has an ace up his sleeve, as he is pushing a November ballot measure that would address how the city handles homelessness. It’s not technically tied to the mayor’s race, but if voters associate the two, Buscaino won’t complain.

The Tally
: $615,000 spent, $574,000 cash on hand.

City Attorney Mike Feuer entered the mayor’s race back in March 2020, but on the financial tote board he now trails Bass, de León and Buscaino. He raised $247,000 in the latter half of 2021, with extensive support from attorneys, giving him a total of $969,000 raised. It’s hard to imagine he is ebullient after seeing his competitors’ totals, but he too will be able to secure matching funds.
The Tally: $457,000 spent, $527,000 cash on hand.

Loan Ranger: If Caruso enters the race, he won’t be the only one spending his own money. Ramit Varma, a tech executive few Angelenos have heard of, has loaned his campaign $1.5 million, which makes up almost 90 percent of his $1.68 million war chest.Self-financing a campaign is difficult, as many have learned. It’s worth noting that someone who loans their campaign money doesn’t have to spend it all.

Into Six Figures: The mayor’s race always attracts outsiders who dream big about their message catching fire with Angelenos. There are a couple in this year’s field, including Mel Wilson, who owns a Valley-based real estate firm. His $141,000 raised is not insignificant, but it hardly provides an ample base to chase hundreds of thousands of voters spread across the 467 square miles of Los Angeles. He only has $37,000 in cash on hand.

Also seeking to shatter the status quo is Craig Greiwe, an executive at marketing and communications firm Rogers and Cowan PMK.  His Ethics Disclosure filings reveal $121,000 raised. That includes $25,000 he gave himself. His cash on hand count is $57,000.

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