Mayoral Money: How the Candidates Fundraising Figures Stack Up

Cityside Column: Big bucks are flowing, and everyone from Samuel L. Jackson to Frank Gehry has a favorite candidate
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When the latest batch of mayoral campaign fundraising and spending figures were revealed recently, attention focused on the staggering $23.78 million that Rick Caruso dropped in the span of two months. Through April 23, according to disclosure statements filed with the City Ethics Commission, the billionaire developer shelled out more than four times the $5.75 million that every other mayoral hopeful, combined, has spent since the campaign began.

That is not the only notable nugget as the June 7 election approaches. With mail-in ballots hitting homes next month, every dollar matters, and the disclosures reveal a lot about money and where it’s coming from. Here are a few important takeaways.

Cash Is King

When looking at candidates, there is a tendency to focus on contributions and expenditures. Yet just as important is another stat: Cash on Hand.

As any good campaign operative knows, you don’t need the most money, and the person with the fattest bank account doesn’t always win. While every candidate likely envies Caruso’s bottomless pockets, what matters is having enough to run your campaign.

Right now, five candidates in addition to Caruso have the money to be factors. That starts with U.S. Rep Karen Bass, whose $2.975 million in cash on hand can cover an army of ads, phone banks, door knockers, text pleas and more. In any race without a billionaire, she’d likely be in pole position.

Councilmember Kevin de León had a healthy $1.66 million in cash as of April 23, while City Attorney Mike Feuer had $976,000, and Councilmember Joe Buscaino touted $408,000. Each is continuing to fundraise, and more city matching funds could flow. Importantly, Buscaino has yet to receive any of this free city money—mayoral candidates can get up to about $1 million in matching funds.

Another candidate, tech entrepreneur Ramit Varma, has loaned his campaign $4 million, and while he doesn’t qualify for matching funds, he does have almost $3 million left to throw around.

Caruso had $638,000 in cash as of April 23, but it’s pointless to focus on the number. When the dude wants more money, he writes a seven-figure check. He gave his campaign another $2.5 million on May 3.

 

Friends of Rick

While Caruso doesn’t need a dime from anyone else, he’s soliciting contributions anyway. And people are responding. He raised $572,000 in traditional donations since launching his campaign on Feb. 11.

Some notable names wrote checks. Geoff Palmer, the developer known for his faux Italian apartment projects and his support of Donald Trump, gave Caruso the maximum individual amount allowed of $1,500. So did another guy at the top of his field: Imagine Entertainment Chairman Brian Grazer.

Caruso’s disclosure statements reveal more than 140 maximum donations. Those who shelled out $1,500 include home building giant Bruce Karatz, acclaimed restaurateur Joachim Splichal, Toni Antoci, the CEO of Erewhon, and former NBCUniversal chair Ron Meyer (now listed as CEO of Tennor).

The United Talent Agency seems to adore Caruso. He got donations from 21 people there, including 10 worth $1,500, and another five who each gave $1,000. So don’t be surprised if UTA is soon packaging a biopic about how Caruso saved L.A.

 

Karen Ka-Ching

Caruso’s profligate spending makes it easy to miss how Bass crushed everyone else on the fundraising front. She raised $1.06 million just since Jan. 1. In that time period, de León got friends and fans to pony up $577,000. It was a comparatively weak fundraising period for Feuer and Buscaino, who notched $218,000 and $128,000, respectively.

Bass’ donation page from the period is mind numbing, with more than 2,000 entries, hundreds of them max contributions.

There are scores of gives from attorneys and others in the legal field. Bass, a former physician’s assistant, also received extensive support from doctors. As with her first fundraising period, she scored dough from some major Hollywood players: Samuel L. Jackson gave $1,500, as did Adam McKay, Aaron Sorkin and Ari Emanuel. Jane Fonda donated $1,200.

Bass also got $1,500 from Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League. I repeat, $1,500 from Roger Goodell.

 

Leaning Into de León

All the attention paid to Caruso and Bass means one might overlook de León. That’s a mistake—the District 14 council rep and former president of the State Senate has built a sizable war chest.

Scores of real estate industry figures donated to him in the recent reporting period, from company executives to brokers. Attorneys also came out in force. The more than 250 max donations de León secured in the first four months of 2022 show that he has plenty of affluent and powerful friends—those who gave $1,500 include former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, and architect Frank Gehry

 

Joe Dough

Buscaino has had trouble maintaining his early fundraising pace—he burst out of the gate in March 2021, and raised $818,000 in less than three months. The entry of Caruso likely slowed his roll.

Still, he scored some intriguing donations this year. He got $1,500 from former council colleague David Ryu, as well as the political action committee of the advocacy and lobbying group the Central City Association. Buscaino’s disclosure forms also show $100 from the Mortuary at Green Hills in Rancho Palos Verdes. Insert your own dead-campaign joke here.

 

Feuer Factor

The city attorney’s haul since Jan. 1 includes $100,000 he loaned his campaign, and he has launched some amusing TV ads featuring him walking around Los Angeles with a dachshund named Martin. Still, Feuer has to have hoped for more financial support. Like Buscaino, he probably found fundraising difficult after Caruso entered.

As in past fundraising periods, Feuer got dozens of donations from attorneys. His most intriguing current contribution is $1,500 from Phil Lord, director of The Lego Movie. Lord previously donated to Bass, so I can only hope that he is planning an L.A. Mayoral Contender Lego Set, Complete With Debate Stage and Moderator Lego Elex Michaelson.

 

Billboard Guy

No disclosure form is more curious than that of Varma, who has popped up billboards with bar codes across town. His filings show $4 million he loaned himself, which is more than 20 times the $191,000 he received in traditional donations. Those who maxed out to his campaign include a pair of executives with Riot Games, and five physicians.

 

More People, More Money

Six other people have qualified for the ballot, but it is difficult to see any of them having the resources required to make significant headway with hundreds of thousands of voters. PR executive Craig Greiwe has raised $228,000, but had $13,000 in cash on hand as of April 23. Realtor Mel Wilson secured $174,000, but has about $29,000 to spend. Progressive candidate Gina Viola has an ardent Twitter following, but raised only $30,309, and has under $20,000 in cash on hand.


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