Rick Caruso’s campaign spending tops $23 million in L.A. mayor’s race

Mayoral candidate Rick Caruso speaking at a campaign event in Encino.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, shown at a recent campaign event in Encino, has spent more than $23 million on his run for mayor.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

With six weeks remaining before the primary, Rick Caruso’s Los Angeles mayoral campaign has already spent more than $23 million — an astronomical sum that far surpasses the combined spending of the other candidates in the field.

That influx of cash — which has largely come out of the billionaire real estate developer’s own pocket — has reshaped the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti. By comparison, Rep. Karen Bass has spent nearly $800,000 this year.

Bass’ campaign has raised more than $1 million since the beginning of the year, a figure well above the more than $570,000 raised by the Caruso campaign, according to filings covering Jan. 1 through April 23 submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. Caruso did not enter the race until early February.


Bass also received more than $1 million from the city’s election matching funds program. Caruso opted out of this program.

These disclosures come at a critical moment in the race, with recent polling showing that about 40% of likely voters are still undecided ahead of the June 7 primary. That same polling showed Bass and Caruso in a dead heat for first place, with 24% of likely voters backing Caruso and 23% supporting Bass.

Since the year started, City Atty. Mike Feuer raised about $116,000 and lent his campaign $100,000 of his own money, according to ethics filings. He picked up about $690,000 in matching funds and his campaign spent about $455,000 since the beginning of the year.

Councilman Kevin de León has raised about $580,000 since the year began and spent a little more than $500,000 during the same period, according to a summary of the filing shown to The Times. He has also benefited from about $420,000 in city matching funds.

One of the latest entrants to the race, Gina Viola, has raised slightly more than $30,000 and spent about $7,000 on her campaign. The community activist, who has been a vocal critic of the city’s homelessness policies and the Los Angeles Police Department, picked up 2% in a recent Times poll — ahead of several candidates who have raised and spent far more than she has.

Councilman Joe Buscaino has raised a little more than $128,000 since the year began and spent just over $300,000 during the same period, according to ethics filings. He is eligible for city matching funds, though he has not yet received any.

Caruso has poured $22.5 million of his own money into his mayoral bid — a figure without precedent in local L.A. politics. Garcetti spent about $10.2 million in total on his winning bid for citywide office in 2013 — a figure that included not just the primary election but also his runoff campaign against then-City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Rick Caruso has considered running for L.A. mayor before but has never jumped in. For this year’s race, he promises a “final decision shortly.”

Jan. 23, 2022

Republican businessman Richard Riordan put $6 million of his own money into his successful 1993 campaign for mayor, equivalent to just under $12 million in 2022 dollars after adjusting for inflation. Only half of that was spent during the primary.


Caruso isn’t the only candidate giving big money to his own campaign. Ramit Varma, a tech entrepreneur from Encino who had the support of 1% of likely voters in recent polling, lent his campaign $2.5 million, bringing the total he has given to $4 million since jumping into the race.

Of that amount, about $220,000 went to putting his face and QR codes on billboards — some along Los Angeles freeways. He also raised about $8,000.

The filings — which include a detailed breakdown of spending — also offer a snapshot of the expenses of typically opaque campaigns. For instance, the Caruso campaign and vendors it used paid Contour Fossa LLC, which bills itself as an “Elite Makeup, Hair & Styling Agency,” about $6,400 for services categorized as TV production costs.

Bass’ campaign paid the Chicago restaurant RPM Seafood about $3,000 for fundraising events and spent more than $5,000 on fundraising events at Hotel Maya in Long Beach. Feuer’s campaign pays Verizon Wireless about $60 a month categorized as office expenses.

Campaign funding is not the only source of money in the race: Independent expenditure committees supporting or opposing candidates have also begun to take shape. Donors can give unlimited amounts of money to these committees, and donations to campaigns are capped at $1,500 per cycle.

Last week, the union representing Los Angeles police officers started an independent expenditure committee to oppose Bass. The union, which has endorsed Caruso, put an initial $500,000 into the committee. A separate committee supporting Bass had raised just under $1 million as of Thursday.


The committees — which by law cannot communicate with the campaigns — often drive attack ads and negative messaging, though they have yet to do so in the race.


10:26 a.m. April 29, 2022: This story was updated to include Councilman Joe Buscaino’s filings.