Unions representing Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and firefighters have pumped at least $800,000 into an independent expenditure committee supporting Kathryn Barger, chief of staff to county Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, in her bid to replace him.
Campaign finance statements posted Monday show that the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and Los Angeles County Firefighter Local 1014 have each contributed $400,000 to the outside committee set up to support Barger.
The committee, First Responders Supporting Barger for Supervisor 2016, reported spending about $328,000 as of last week on consultants, mailers and radio and television ads.
The outside money could give Barger a boost into the runoff in the hotly contested race. Eight candidates are running to succeed Antonovich, who will be forced out by term limits at the end of the year.
Barger is facing off against L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander, who has maintained a narrow lead in fundraising; prosecutor Elan Carr; state Sen. Bob Huff; Palmdale businessman Raj Pal Kahlon; Altadena Councilman Billy Malone; Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian; and entrepreneur Darrell Park.
The majority of the candidates are Republicans, including Barger. Park, Malone and Kahlon are Democrats.
Englander's campaign fundraising committee reported raising $1.2 million as of last month, and Barger had raised a little more than $1 million.
Building trade unions, developers and other groups have contributed to an independent committee supporting Englander's bid. That independent expenditure committee has so far reported raising $273,500.
Barger has consolidated support among public sector unions, including Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents the largest share of county employees, and she is backed by the powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
The federation issued a statement on behalf of the heads of the deputy and firefighter unions about their spending on Barger's behalf. In the statement, George Hofstetter, president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, praised her for "seeking out options and resources to reduce chronic line-level staffing shortages for sworn personnel in the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to protect our community from violence."
Firefighters union President Dave Gillotte said Barger has "fought to ensure our first responders have the tools to act quickly to protect our community from harm."
"We trust Kathryn, she's earned it," he said.
Independent expenditure committees are legally barred from coordinating with the candidates they support and are not subject to the same fundraising limits as candidate-controlled committees, which are generally limited to about $1.5 million per election in county supervisor races.
Barger's campaign consultant, Bill Carrick, said those limits pose a challenge in the far-flung district with more than 1 million registered voters, and the infusion of outside money could provide a boost.
"The county supervisorial financing system is really pretty restrictive for the candidates," he said.
As to the unions' support for Barger, he said, "They know her really well. They've worked with her."
Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said it's not surprising that outside groups are spending significant resources on the county race, given that competitive races are rare for seats on the powerful county board.
"When you have such rare open seats, the stakes get high very quickly," he said.
Although labor support could be a political liability for a Republican candidate under some circumstances, Sonenshein said the fact that the money is coming from public safety unions would probably play better with conservative voters.