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Campaign spending sets record

Spending in the hotly contested two-year race for Los Angeles mayor exceeded $33 million on Saturday, breaking previous records as unlimited outside money continued to play a dominant role in Tuesday’s contest.

Candidate super PACs and so-called “independent expenditure” donors, which do not have to abide by the city’s campaign contribution limits, provided 41% of the $25.6-million total raised just for candidates Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti since the contest began in March 2011, according to campaign reports. The remainder of the mayoral campaign money has involved donations collected for candidates who failed to make the runoff.

The biggest single contributor has been Working Californians, the pro-Greuel super PAC with major funding from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents employees at the Department of Water and Power and elsewhere. By early Saturday afternoon, the PAC had raised more than $4.1 million on Greuel’s behalf from unions, business interests and others, fundraising reports show.

The group’s heavy involvement in the race has become a campaign issue as Greuel and Garcetti seek to replace term-limited Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who steps down June 30. Garcetti has been hammering Greuel in television ads that suggest she will not act in the public interest when dealing with the DWP union, Working Californians’ largest donor.

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Greuel has struck back by highlighting Garcetti’s support of raises and other initiatives favored by the DWP union. She also hit Garcetti over ads aired by another super PAC, Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti. That group has raised more than $2.1 million, with some of the proceeds paying for a TV ad that implies Greuel favored Proposition 187, the controversial 1994 state measure seeking to crack down on illegal immigrants.

The commercial has been denounced by Villaraigosa, Councilman Jose Huizar and others who say Greuel campaigned against the measure.

Greuel is getting help from at least $7.7 million in independent spending so far, compared with $2.7 million assisting Garcetti. But those efforts have also complicated the campaign, sending political messages that the candidates themselves can’t control, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.. At the same time, the money they provide is crucial to both candidates, he added.

To win the mayor’s race, “you have to have some groups out there, independent committees, supplementing what you’re able to raise -- unless you’re independently wealthy,” Sonenshein said.

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For all city races, including contests for city attorney, city controller and City Council, spending has exceeded $60 million so far. In South Los Angeles, businesses, billboard companies, unions and others have provided more than $1.1 million in independent, uncapped donations to elect council candidate Curren Price, giving him an enormous financial edge over opponent Ana Cubas, whose support from independent groups totaled $38,000.

On the Eastside, more than $800,000 in independent spending -- much of it from unions, billboard companies and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce -- has helped council candidate Gil Cedillo in his run against Jose Gardea, a former council aide who benefited from $94,000 in unrestricted money.

In Garcetti’s Echo Park-to-Hollywood district, former city commissioner John Choi got a boost from at least $725,000 in independent spending, all but a tiny fraction from union-backed groups. Opponent Mitch O’Farrell was helped by $148,000 in unrestricted funds, two-thirds of it from the National Assn. of Realtors.

Price, Choi, Cedillo and Greuel have all been backed by Working Californians and the L.A. County Federation of Labor, which represents 600,000 workers and has its own political action committee. In the mayor’s race, unions have provided $5.6 million in unrestricted funds for Greuel and $1 million for Garcetti.

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City Hall unions that represent police officers, firefighters and DWP unions have spent at least $3.5 million combined on Greuel’s behalf. Groups that represent Teamsters, laborers, longshore workers at the Port of Los Angeles and workers at Los Angeles International Airport have put $665,000 into Garcetti so far.

Traditional lines between labor, business and individual donors have become increasingly blurred.

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt put more than $150,000 into the effort to elect Greuel, sending $20,000 to a unit of the Service Employees International Union that represents nursing home workers. That group, which has been pressing the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to pay home care workers a “living wage” of $9.65 per hour, has a PAC called the Committee to Elect Wendy Greuel.

McCourt, who is expected to develop property near the baseball stadium, also gave $130,000 to two committees run by Working Californians, the pro-Greuel group affiliated with the DWP union. Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is seeking to run the city’s Convention Center, gave $50,000 to a Working Californians committee that is helping Greuel and other candidates.

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Asked about the donation, AEG issued a statement saying the company has “consistently supported both the business and the labor sectors” of the city. “As Working Californians shares these views, we chose to make our donation for these reasons,” the statement said.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who regularly weighs in on cultural and education issues, provided $25,000 to California Law Enforcement for Garcetti, a political action committee sponsored by the police officers’ union at LAX. An additional $5,000 came from CH2M Hill, a firm that regularly seeks city contracts.

Airport union President Marshall McClain said his group began turning to nonunion donors after concluding that there was no way they could match the financial might of the larger unions that favor Greuel.

“The consensus was, let’s look to the private sector,” he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

maloy.moore@latimes.com


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