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In Primary Alone, Super PACs Have Spent Millions On Greuel, James

Aaron Liu |
March 4, 2013 | 4:49 p.m. PST

Senior News Editor

Greuel, James enjoy the biggest advantage from outside expenditures for the primary. (Aaron Liu/Neon Tommy)
Greuel, James enjoy the biggest advantage from outside expenditures for the primary. (Aaron Liu/Neon Tommy)
Campaign finance laws limit individual campaign contributions to $1,300 each. They do not, however, limit contributions to a political action committees -- independent groups that can solicit as much as they want from their donors. 

For two candidates -- Wendy Greuel and Kevin James  -- super PACs have made a world of difference for their mayoral bids. 

The independent super PAC "Working Californians for Wendy Greuel" has allowed the city controller to enjoy sizable financial support of Hollywood executives, the police union, the firefighters union and labor groups affiliated with the Department of Water and Power. 

Meanwhile, "Better Way LA" has raised more funds for James than his campaign has for itself. Much of the seven hundred thousand raised by Better Way LA comes from conservative interests from outside Los Angeles.  

Outside spending on Greuel alone has already outpaced the amount for mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the entirety of his 2005 campaign. The city controller has received more dollars from outside expenditures than the rest of the candidates combined.

Records kept by the city ethics commission show outside groups spending more than $2.2 million on Greuel. Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti has raised roughly the same amount as Greuel from individual contributions, but the super PAC that supports the 13th district councilman -- "Lots Of People Who Support Eric Garcetti For Mayor" -- has only spent $3,644.60, according to city records.

To be fair, Garcetti's super PAC is focusing on the runoff. An important point to note regarding Garcetti and outside expenditures is the 13th District city councilman's initial aversion to PACs until his own special interest group came to fruition around mid-February. Garcetti went as far as asking the other candidates to take a "people's pledge" -- donate half the money your PAC raises to a charity of your choosing. Greuel called the pledge a gimmick and refused sign it. With the deal off the table, Garcetti personally gave up on the pledge as well. 

Councilwoman Jan Perry, the closest candidate to Greuel and Garcetti in terms of fundraising power, has used her campaign funds for an extensive direct-mail campaign because she can't afford to buy TV ads.

"Many of Jan Perry's supporters come from her district," said Vivian Bowers, the president of the Central Avenue Business Association and the owner of Bowers and Sons, a dry cleaner on Central Avenue. Bowers donated $300 to the Perry campaign. 

"I gave what I could because I know what it means," said Bowers.  

South Los Angeles has less money than the rest of the city, said Bowers, which means that Perry will inevitably draw less from her supporters compared to Greuel, who has ties to labor and show business.

"At the end of the day, a candidate like Wendy Greuel may have connections with larger entities and people who are able to give thousands of dollars more to the election," said Bowers, "but look at the people that you are drawing from?"

Who are the people that support Working Californians for Wendy Greuel? 

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have contributed more than a million dollars to the PAC. In particular, IBEW Local 18 -- which accounts for 90 percent of city employees at the Department of Water and Power -- has made numerous six-figure contributions to the PAC throughout the race. The head of Local 18, Brian D'arcy, co-chairs the PAC with Marvin Kropke, the business manager for IBEW Local 11. 

In 2009, D'arcy and Kropke spent $200,000 on Greuel's campaign for city controller.  

Greuel's opponents have attacked her for her IBEW affiliations. D'arcy and DWP workers make more than other city employees, wages which IBEW opponents link to higher utility rates and increased stress on Los Angeles' city budget. 

On Friday, Garcetti held a press conference outside the Department of Water and Power and accused them of trying to buy the election for Greuel. 

“Ms. Greuel has failed to audit the DWP pension system, and the DWP salaries, and now the DWP union is spending millions to elect Greuel and attack me because they know that I will be an independent voice for our ratepayers,” said Garcetti in remarks that were carried by the Los Angeles Times.

By no means does Greuel's super PAC rely solely on IBEW, or on labor unions in general. Individuals who worked with Greuel when she was an executive for DreamWorks SKG have also come to lend their support financially. 

On February 7, DreamWorks founders Stephen Spielberg, Jeffery Katzenberg and David Geffen each gave $50,000 to the PAC. DreamWorks also distributed the Judd Apatow-produced film "Anchorman" -- city records show that Apatow contributed $2,500 to Greuel's PAC on January 25.  

For Greuel, the effects of accepting unlimited sums from rich friends are two-fold. On one hand, outside expenditures have funded television ads, radio ads and political mailers that cast Greuel in a positive light and attack her opponents. On the other hand, outside contributions have opened the door to accusations that Greuel will act in the interest of her donors rather than the interests of the people as a whole. Meanwhile, attack ads funded by Greuel's PAC have only incentivized Garcetti and others to retaliate against the controller.  

James, the only Republican in the race, has also faced political liabilities due to the formation of his PAC, Better Way LA. Ironically, the Greuel camp accused the PAC of perverting the municipal election with unlimited contributions from powerful interests. 

"At any moment, we could see an unprecedented avalanche of negative campaign ads paid for by anonymous outsiders attacking Wendy and dividing Angelenos against each other," said the Greuel campaign. 

The Garcetti camp also issued a similar statement.

"Eric Garcetti is the biggest threat to everything these super PACs support," the Garcetti camp stated on their blog. "With a single check, they [Better Way LA] can raise more money than Eric has during the entire campaign.”

With days before the primary, Better Way LA has yet to see a check that completely outpaces Garcetti's fundraising efforts. Rather than corrupting the 2013 election with unprecedented sums of outside money, the super PAC has functioned more or less to keep James' campaign alive -- a campaign which has raised only four hundred thousand in individual contributions, compared to the 4.5 million raised by both Greuel and Garcetti.

Unlike Working Californians for Wendy Greuel, which solicits funds mostly from within Los Angeles, Better Way LA finds most of its support mainly from outside interests. Texas Billionaire Harold Simmons, a long time Republican donor who once called President Barack Obama "the most dangerous man alive," wrote a $600,000 to James' PAC in mid January after meeting James once at a cocktail party. City records also show that John Arnold of the Laura and John Arnold foundation, a philanthropic group started by a Texas couple who've donated money to both Democratic and Republican campaigns, has personally given $200,000 to James' PAC. Longtime GOP ad-man Fred Davis helped set up the PAC and has contributed $500,000 to James personally. 

James, Greuel, Garcetti and the other mayoral candidates have raised a grand total so far of about $12.8 million -- a figure that does not include outside spending. They've spent a cumulative $15 million throughout the race. 

Tuesday's primary will send two candidates to a run-off vote on May 21 unless one of the candidates can clench a majority.  

Reach reporter Aaron Liu here or request to follow him on Twitter.



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