Late Funding Blitz Fueling Negative Council Battles

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Council candidates on Friday reported a spurt of 11th-hour fund-raising, which is helping to fuel a blitz of mail, television and radio ads.

As the Tuesday election approaches, the tone of the campaign has grown more negative. In mailers delivered to residents' homes, for instance, some candidates accused opponents of misleading voters and of financial failings.

"I'm personally alarmed at the last-minute attacks in city elections," said former City Councilman Marvin Braude, chairman of the Campaign Watch Commission for the League of Women Voters. "It's endemic."

Campaign finance statements filed Friday showed that groups independent of the candidates' campaigns continued their expenditures in the races. Such campaigns by labor groups, businesses and an Indian tribe have spent $829,000 to date.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which earlier in the week spent $75,000 on mailers against 14th District candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, reported spending $28,000 more in the race. The tribe also reported spending $6,000 on behalf of 10th District candidate Roderick Wright.

Such independent expenditures have caused spending limits to be lifted in the 14th, 12th and 10th districts.

Candidates who receive city matching funds agree to spend no more than $330,000. But that limit is automatically lifted for all candidates when independent expenditures on behalf of a single candidate exceed $50,000.

In the mid-city's 10th District, Martin Ludlow has been the beneficiary of significant independent expenditures, most of it from organized labor.

Campaign finance statements filed Friday show that Ludlow, a former legislative aide and labor organizer, remains the leading fund-raiser among the six candidates seeking to replace Councilman Nate Holden. Ludlow raised $334,000 in contributions and city matching funds as of Wednesday, compared with $328,000 brought in by Holden's field deputy, Deron Williams.

Ludlow's last-minute campaign efforts included a tape-recorded message from former Vice President Al Gore that was delivered by telephone.

But Ludlow also became a target of a mailer sent to voters in the district. The mailer criticized Ludlow for financial problems, including two tax liens and a 1998 bankruptcy filing.

"Can you trust Martin Ludlow with your city budget?" states the mailer, which was sent by a group called United Democratic Campaign Committee.

Ludlow said the two liens, one from 1995, and the bankruptcy filing have been settled and were the result of his taking responsibility for family debt when he went through a divorce.

"It's very sad they would bring in a very painful moment for me," Ludlow said.

In the 12th District, Greig Smith has benefited by more than $52,700 in independent expenditures, most of it from a billboard company.

Smith, former chief of staff to outgoing Councilman Hal Bernson, maintained a huge lead in fund-raising over the other five candidates in the northwest San Fernando Valley race. His filing Friday shows he has raised $403,000 in contributions and matching funds as of Wednesday and has spent $390,000.

Julie Korenstein, the second-leading fund-raiser in that race, has brought in $126,000.

In the 14th District in northeast Los Angeles, incumbent Nick Pacheco continues to lead Villaraigosa in fund-raising. As of Wednesday, Pacheco had raised $609,000 in contributions and matching funds, compared with $542,000 for Villaraigosa.

Meantime, the Campaign Watch Commission found Friday that Korenstein had a valid complaint when he said a mailer by Smith was inaccurate in stating she had failed to secure land for a school in Porter Ranch.

The panel found a mailer by candidate Robert Vinson was "false and misleading" in accusing Korenstein of accepting a huge contribution from landfill operator Browning Ferris Industries "as it pertains to the current election." The panel also validated a complaint by Smith, finding Korenstein was not authorized to list the Sierra Club among her endorsers.

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