The top two contenders in the L.A. mayor’s race remain in close fundraising contention as they enter the final 5 1/2 weeks before the primary, but two outside groups also posted significant sums, demonstrating their potential to upend the race.
City Controller Wendy Greuel edged Councilman Eric Garcetti by collecting $130,644 to his $84,188 during the fundraising period from Jan. 1 to 19. But Garcetti, who served as council president between 2006 and 2012, holds a considerable lead over Greuel in cash on hand, with $3.55 million to Greuel’s $2.94 million.
The new filings show that Greuel reported about $101,000 in unpaid bills to Garcetti’s $45,000. A key portion of Greuel’s spending over the past month was on slate mailings to registered voters with a high propensity to cast ballots -- just as vote-by-mail balloting is set to begin early next month. She also paid a significant amount to the Washington, D.C.-based polling firm Lake Research Partners.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents downtown and South Los Angeles, collected about $16,000 during the first 19 days of this year. With city matching funds, she has raised more than $2 million and reported $1.2 million in cash on hand at the end of the filing period.
A fifth candidate, technology executive Emanuel Pleitez, reported that he has nearly $320,000 to spend before the March 5 primary.
Attorney and former radio talk show host Kevin James, who has accumulated more than $534,000 for his bid, including matching funds, collected nearly $15,000 during the first part of this year and has about $49,000 left in his account. That means that his hopes of making the mayoral runoff will largely depend on spending by an outside group, Better Way L.A., which can collect unlimited donations to boost the candidacy of the former prosecutor.
The group has raised $700,000 from just two donors. During the January filing period, Better Way L.A. received the bulk of that in the form of a half-million-dollar contribution from top GOP donor Harold C. Simmons, a Dallas-based billionaire who contributed more than $20 million to the super PACs that tried to defeat President Obama in 2012.
Last year, Simmons; his wife, Annette; and his Contran Corp. donated $20.5 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove, and $2.3 million to a pro-Romney political action committee.
At a candidates’ forum on Thursday night sponsored by the League of Women Voters, James said he does not have a personal relationship with Simmons, but that the two met at a fundraiser for him last year. Republican advertising specialist Fred Davis, who formed Better Way L.A., has said he hopes to raise $3.5 million to make James a presence on television before the primary.
But Better Way L.A.'s influence may be checked by an outside group known as Working Californians, which is backing Greuel. James and Greuel are competing for many of the same moderate and conservative voters in the San Fernando Valley, the area that Greuel represented as a councilwoman.
Consultants for Working Californians have said that entertainment industry executives and labor unions -- including the union that represents Los Angeles city utility workers -- are joining forces to fund the outside effort to help Greuel, who handled government relations at DreamWorks before being elected to the City Council in 2002.
Working Californians is expected to raise at least $2 million, which could help boost Greuel’s profile on television in the final weeks of the race. The first report this week showed an initial $250,000 contribution from the political arm of the public utility union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18.