Spending $1.6M to Get Elected and More L.A. Campaign Finance Fun

Cityside Column: The latest fundraising and spending reports reveal goodies and curiosities from a number of 2022 races

Since launching his mayoral campaign in February, Rick Caruso has pumped nearly $70 million into the race. Most of this is his own money and includes more than $28 million in the period after the June primary.

The mall magnate spouting cash like a busted fire hydrant is not the only interesting financial aspect of the campaign. There’s also a progressive candidate in the City Attorney race digging deep into his own wallet, a City Controller hopeful with a predilection for fast-casual meals, and more.

Last week, candidates for city seats filed their fundraising and spending reports for the period through Sept. 24, and it’s all available on the City Ethics Commission website. Here are some revelations found within and which tell the story of this election year as we approach the end—of campaigning, at least—when in-person voters head to the polls on Nov. 8.

He’s a Gill-ionaire!

Many left-leaning candidates emphasize small-dollar donations, knowing that not only do these add up, but they get people invested in politics and can unlock a torrent of “free” money in city matching funds (more on those below). City Attorney aspirant Faisal Gill is running as a progressive, but the guy is like Caruso in a couple of ways: He’s a former Republican and a huge portion of his war chest flows from his own bank account.

Through Sept. 24, Gill reported contributions of $2.07 million (for the primary and runoff combined). That includes $1.59 million in personal loans to his campaign. In the runoff period alone, the former Vermont and now Porter Ranch resident gave himself $400,000, more than twice the $170,000 he secured from donors. I have no idea how Gill acquired such wealth, but I have so many questions, starting with: Like Caruso does he, too, own a fancy yacht with a fancy name?

Hydee Feldstein Soto, who finished behind Gill in the first round, has raised a total of $779,000, with $125,000 coming via personal loans. Donors have given her $260,000 in the runoff period, which she augmented with a $75,000 loan.

One thing to watch: Feldstein Soto can still get $482,000 in matching funds, which the city provides to candidates who secure a set number of small donations from local residents. City Attorney candidates who give their campaign more than $148,100 are disqualified. So Gill has to do it all himself.

Controlling the Money Flow

Councilman Paul Koretz, who is running for City Controller, raised far more than any other candidate in round one but got thumped on election day by Kenneth Mejia, who has ignited progressives (and worried others, in part for past tweets calling Joe Biden a rapist). The money continues to flow Koretz’s way—through Sept. 24 he pulled in $171,000 for the runoff, more than twice the $80,500 secured by his opponent. In the primary, both received more than $400,000 in matching funds, and probably will again.

As in round one, Mejia has less money, but many more individual donors than Koretz; his disclosure forms are replete with people who gave $100 or less. Mejia reported just four donations of the maximum individual amount allowed of $1,500. Koretz claims more than 60.

The Chipotle Connection

Financial disclosure forms also reveal how candidates spend cash. This is usually bland stuff, detailing big sums to consultants, small amounts for office expenses, and the cost of everything from mailers to ads. For example, Koretz’s runoff period expenditures include more than $20,000 to the Los Angeles Times for print advertisements. So far in the runoff, he has spent $215,000.

Mejia has dropped $204,000 in the runoff, but some of his expenditures are more, uh, tasty. In addition to paying for consultants and campaign literature, there are 66 entries with the description “food for volunteers.” What do the hungry eat? There are 16 line-item expenditures for Luck Thai PJ Cuisine and eight for It’s Thai Casual Dining. In the sandwich war, Togo’s gets seven expenditures (totaling $251.96), eclipsing the five at Subway ($155.76). But more than anything, Team Mejia enjoys Chipotle. The forms show 21 visits for a total of $736.99.

Funds in the 15th

It’s been a rough patch for Danielle Sandoval. She took a hit when the Times reported on wage theft allegations by former employees at a restaurant she once owned. The situation worsened when she spun for a few days, before accepting responsibility and apologizing.

That could hamper her on Election Day. As could her fundraising. After a solid second-place finish in June, Sandoval raised $44,500 through Sept. 24. Meanwhile, Tim McOsker, who has long ties to City Hall and came in first in the primary, rolled up almost $350,000. Independent expenditure groups affiliated with the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and the County Federation of Labor have spent an additional $210,000 pushing him—by law, IEs cannot coordinate with a candidate’s official campaign. If McOsker is not a steamroller, then he is close.

Sandoval counts approximately 30 people or organizations that gave her $800, the maximum allowed in a council race. McOsker has more than 300 max donations. This includes firefighter PACs from Burbank, Seattle and San Francisco. Insert your joke here about extinguishing Sandoval’s flame.

Cash Changes Course

In June, Katy Young Yaroslavsky finished just under the 50% needed to win the District 5 seat. This came despite her raising $240,000 less than Sam Yebri; Yebri also benefited from almost $1 million in independent expenditure group outlays supporting him and attacking Yaroslavsky.

More cash is flowing to Yaroslavsky this time, but money-wise, things remain competitive. She secured $338,000 through Sept. 24, a bit ahead of Yebri’s $291,000. Each of the pair aiming for the Westside seat has already secured the full $201,000 available in matching funds. The IEs have barely gotten involved this round.

Scratching, Clawing, Fighting

One of the most fascinating races on the ballot is in District 13. In the primary, far-left challenger Hugo Soto-Martinez finished ahead of Mitch O’Farrell, an incumbent seeking a third and final term. Historically when this happens, money floods to the person who came in first. Not this time.

Soto-Martinez raised $137,000 through Sept. 24, while O’Farrell pulled in just under $200,000. A greater divide comes in IEs. To date, Soto-Martinez has seen groups affiliated with the hotel and restaurant employees union, where he works, spend over $100,000 on his behalf. That is significant, but other IEs have spent about $790,000 supporting O’Farrell. This includes hefty expenditures from LBGTQ+ civil rights organization Equality California.

More Scratching and Clawing

The race for District 11 shares similarities to the District 13 contest. Although no incumbent is in the mix, a very progressive candidate, Erin Darling, is facing a more centrist competitor, in Traci Park. Darling, who is often described as holding views akin to controversial outgoing Councilman Mike Bonin, finished first in June, despite being significantly outspent.

The money game is similar in round two. Darling raised a decent $164,000 through Sept. 24, but Park swamped him with $432,000. The race for the district that includes Venice and other coastal communities is also like the District 13 contest in terms of IEs: The carpenters union has dropped $135,000 supporting Darling. On the other side, unions representing L.A. firefighters and police officers have shelled out more than $620,000 pushing Park.

With more than a month until Election Day, we can expect things to get a lot more expensive and much more bitter. The next financial update drops Oct. 27.

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