When it comes to Costa Mesa's charter ballot initiative, organized labor so far has raised more and outspent its opposition, campaign finance records show.
As of Sept. 30, the latest information available, the Orange County Employees Assn. and others have raised nearly $170,000 against Measure V and spent about $55,000.
The majority has come from the Committee for Costa Mesa's Future and its $100,000 contribution from the Sacramento-based California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust.
By contrast, the Citizens for Costa Mesa City Charter have raised nearly $22,000 and spent about $7,700 as of Sept 30. The group of six contributors includes family trusts and investors, mostly from Newport Beach.
When asked about the spending discrepancy, Nick Berardino, OCEA's general manager, said that it's impossible to know who's outspending who, and that the final numbers could change and show a different picture by the next filing period.
He called Costa Mesa's proposed city charter a "power grab" created behind closed doors.
"They closed out the community from having any input, and we have great examples of the cities of Bell, Stockton and San Bernardino for what happens when you invest so much power in a few politicians," he said.
The charter stipulates public-works contracts that are solely funded by Costa Mesa to be exempt from prevailing-wage requirements, the state rates set by unions and other parties. Berardino said that exemption would be detrimental.
"Without having a prevailing wage, working families are only going to get pushed more out of the middle class and become part of the working poor," he said. "Whether it's Costa Mesa or anywhere in the United States, we have to begin to focus on how we can get working families back on their feet."
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer — the architect of the charter, which he contends will lead to taxpayer savings — said the campaign spending demonstrates the outside influence of the labor unions trying to decide city matters.
He said groups like the United Food and Commercial Workers — which gave $20,000 toward defeating Measure V — have "nothing to do with Costa Mesa, except that unions help each other out."
"It's wrong," he added. "The citizens of Costa Mesa don't need to have that kind of stuff put in our mailboxes, of backroom deals and that kind of stuff. Our charter has nothing to do with that."
Councilman Steve Mensinger, a Measure V proponent, said the election is "going to be about local control, and the focus on the community wanting to take control of their own destiny. The unions are going to oppose this."
He said it's not surprising that employee associations have outspent his side.
"We have to ask individuals," he said. "They just take it out of their war chest ... We have to raise $1,000 at a time with a lunch and a coffee. It's ridiculous.
"This is akin to Custer's Last Stand, in my opinion, with the unions," he added.
City Council candidate fundraising
The so-called "3Ms" slate of council candidates — Mensinger, Councilman Gary Monahan and Planning Commission Chairman Colin McCarthy — collectively lead in campaign fundraising and spending, according to the campaign finance records.
Mensinger raised $64,934 and spent nearly $34,000. He has three large contributions compared with all the other candidates: $10,000 from William McCullough of Newport Beach, $5,000 from Lewis Schmid of Anaheim, and $5,000 from Villa Pacific Contractors, based in Costa Mesa.
McCarthy has raised $40,814 and spent about $33,000.
Monahan has $25,633 in his campaign fund and has used $14,226 of it.
The 3Ms have been endorsed by the Costa Mesa Taxpayers Assn., a fiscally conservative, grass-roots organization headed by Jim Fitzpatrick, a director on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District's board. The CMTA also endorses Measure V.
Ahead of Monahan, however, in fundraising is attorney John Stephens, with $34,185 raised and $18,735 spent.
Stephens, businessman Harold Weitzberg and former Mayor Sandy Genis have been endorsed by Costa Mesans for Responsible Government, a grass-roots activist group that has also campaigned against the city charter. CM4RG has raised $21,294 and spent $14,430.
Weitzberg has raised $17,288 and spent $11,869. Genis has $11,268 and has spent $3,165.
Candidates James Rader and Al Melone, a retired certified public accountant, have not filed campaign finance disclosure forms as of Monday.
Rader has said he will not actively campaign.