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Huge Caruso ad buy: $17 million in broadcast TV time for remaining weeks of mayoral race

Rick Caruso with his dog, Hudson, last week at the Grove.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, shown last week at the Grove with his dog, Hudson, has committed to spending $17 million on TV ad time in the coming weeks.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

After a dormant summer on the airwaves, Rick Caruso’s mayoral campaign on Thursday reserved $17 million worth of broadcast TV ad time spread over the remaining weeks of the race — a commitment that does not include cable or digital advertising, meaning the spending total will likely grow.

It’s a colossal sum — likely the largest single-day ad reservation ever placed in a local L.A. race — and a level of spending that could help Caruso narrow the double-digit gap in the Nov. 8 general election.

The real estate developer is slated to spend about $2.3 million a week on broadcast advertising through the general election, according to media tracking firm AdImpact. That weekly figure is roughly three times as much as Rep. Karen Bass spent on all TV advertising ahead of the primary.

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After finishing seven points behind Bass in the June primary, Caruso lost ground during the summer, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times. The August poll showed Bass with a 12-point lead over Caruso.

Karen Bass and Rick Caruso are attacking each other’s character and ethics, particularly when it comes to their alma mater.

Caruso spent more than $22 million on broadcast and cable advertising ahead of the spring primary — part of the more than $40 million he spent overall — but remained off TV through the summer and into September, sparking speculation that he might rein in spending for the fall.

But the largely self-financed candidate does not appear to be tightening his belt.

“This is what you need to do to cover up a record as an anti-choice Republican,” Bass spokesperson Sarah Leonard Sheahan said of Caruso’s ad buy.

Caruso has been outspoken about his support for abortion rights on the campaign trail, but has donated to anti-abortion politicians in the past.

“When you’re part of a culture of corruption that’s led to homelessness and crime conditions in Los Angeles, is it any wonder that Karen Bass is resorting to lies and mudslinging?” Caruso spokesperson Peter Ragone shot back in response.

Bass has not yet placed any TV ad buys for the general election. With the latest set of campaign finance records not due until the end of the month, it’s difficult to gauge how much money she raised during the summer. But without vast personal wealth and the ability to self-finance her campaign, it’s unlikely that she will be able to counter more than a fraction of Caruso’s ad spending in the general election.

Support from various outside groups — who are not subject to campaign finance regulations that limit individual donations to candidates to $1,500 per cycle — will likely help her bridge some of that gap.

A political action committee sponsored by the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters placed a reservation for more than $1.1 million in cable and broadcast airtime for ads supporting Bass. That buy will span a three-week period beginning in mid-October.

Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor, an independent political action committee supporting Bass’ candidacy that has raised money from a number of high-profile Hollywood donors, will also likely go back on TV at some point before the November election.

Bass has been heavily favored by local labor groups during the campaign, and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor also recently formed a committee in support of her candidacy.

Morgan Miller, chair of Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor, sharply critiqued Caruso’s mammoth ad reservation.

“Here he goes again, trying to buy this election. Instead of building affordable housing or contributing his wealth to help solve the homeless crisis, Rick Caruso once again announced he is foolishly dropping millions more into his vanity campaign for mayor,” Miller said, suggesting that the money “didn’t work in the June primary and it won’t work in the November general election.”

The Bass campaign has not discussed its ad plans, though her campaign has sent fundraising emails asking supporters to chip in to “Karen’s TV Ad Fund.”

Mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso are providing details about their respective plans for addressing homelessness in Los Angeles.

“We expect Caruso to start attacking Karen any day now. We have to be prepared to respond,” Bass campaign manager Jenny Delwood wrote in a fundraising email last week. The email cited a $40,000 fundraising goal for the TV ad fund by the end of the week — a figure roughly equivalent to one-eighth of what Caruso plans to spend per day on broadcast TV advertising for the next two months.

The Caruso campaign declined to comment on its ad buy, or what the content of the ads might look like.

Caruso’s ability to spend such large sums on advertising “is definitely an advantage” and could help him get more traction, said veteran political strategist Bill Carrick.

“But to me, the problem Rick has is basically structural, in the campaign” Carrick said. “There are a hell of a lot of Democrats that have decided they’re not comfortable voting for him because of his past political history.”

Carrick said he didn’t think omnipresence alone could solve that issue: “He’s going to have to have a message that explains to people that he’s a Democrat and why — what we’re missing is the why part.”


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