L.A. County supervisorial race a money battle between labor, business

Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver during a recent debate. Although both are liberal-leaning Democrats, Kuehl is viewed as more labor-friendly and Shriver more sympathetic toward business.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The pivotal race to replace retiring Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has become a money battle between labor unions and business interests, with fundraising approaching $8.4 million.

Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver have directly collected a combined $5.1 million, according to a Times analysis of thousands of contributions. An additional $3.2 million has been raised by independent committees not controlled by the candidates.

The Times found that union-affiliated donors contributed $2.1 million to help elect Kuehl, a former state senator endorsed by major county labor groups. That’s nine times the amount of labor-related donations supporting Shriver’s supervisorial bid.


Former Santa Monica Councilman Shriver and committees supporting him have taken in about $1 million from individuals and companies associated with the real estate, financial services and construction industries. That’s more than four times the comparable donations received by Kuehl.

The fundraising underscores that although both are liberal-leaning Democrats, Kuehl is viewed as more labor-friendly and Shriver more sympathetic toward business, said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, who studies elections.

Yaroslavsky, also a Democrat, is considered a swing vote on the Board of Supervisors, and he’s built a reputation as a fiscal watchdog willing to stand up to employee unions. The stakes in the race are high because the winner would be the deciding vote on a variety of spending and policy issues, including pay-and-benefit packages for the county’s 100,000-member workforce and how tightly development will be regulated.

“What we’re deciding is how far left of center is the next county supervisor going to be,” Levinson said.

Here’s a look at who’s contributing to the candidates and the independent groups supporting them.

Sheila Kuehl


During her primary campaign, Kuehl’s financial supporters largely were made up of academics, lawyers and legislative colleagues from her 14 years in the state Assembly and Senate. But the pattern shifted in the November runoff, with labor unions providing the largest source of funding for pro-Kuehl campaign efforts.

Though the donations to the candidates’ own committees are limited to $1,500, independent groups are free to raise unlimited amounts, as long as they don’t coordinate their activities with the candidate they are supporting.

An independent committee backing Kuehl, Local Experience We Trust, has raised at least $2 million, with major backing from county employee unions, including several whose contracts are coming up for renewal next year.

In recent weeks, the campaign group has paid for TV and print ads touting Kuehl’s knowledge of issues confronting the Board of Supervisors, including healthcare, foster care and services for families and the mentally ill. Earlier this week it started running TV ads critical of Shriver.

The Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, representing 9,000 deputy sheriffs, gave $500,000 to the group. Other contributors to the committee include the union representing Los Angeles County firefighters ($500,000), the Service Employees International Union local that represents half of the county’s civilian employees ($229,000) and a unit representing probation officers and other county workers ($100,000).

Blaine Meek of the Coalition of County Unions said in a statement that his group found Kuehl more qualified.

“Kuehl has worked on virtually every policy issue impacting county government, and we are confident that she will be a leader in making county services more efficient, more accessible and more reliable for residents,” Meek said.

In addition to upcoming labor contracts, county unions have joined a larger campaign to increase the minimum wage in Los Angeles to at least $15 an hour. The county board is expected to consider raising base wages in unincorporated areas early next year.

Union leaders also have pressed for a stronger voice in policy and management decisions affecting county departments.

Kuehl and Shriver have both said they favor revisiting the county’s minimum wage. But they have parted ways on other labor issues. In interviews and debates, Kuehl has generally favored a more inclusive approach toward employee groups in disputes, while Shriver has supported greater authority for county managers.

Major contributors supporting Kuehl’s election run include education activist Molly Munger, who gave $28,000; AR Asset Management, a Beverly Hills investment firm; and UCLA employees, who made 141 contributions totaling nearly $26,000.

Other contributors are GDML, a landscape architecture firm that has done work for the county, which gave $18,000; and Thomas Safran, an affordable housing developer, who contributed $6,000. Safran builds and operates rental units for low-income families and seniors.

Kuehl, a former child actress who played Zelda in the 1960s sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” has multiple contributors from the entertainment industry. Kuehl’s backers tend to represent those working behind the scenes on TV and film productions, rather than producers, directors and big-name stars.

Bobby Shriver

Shriver, the nephew of President Kennedy, is the biggest single contributor to his election effort.

In the primary, he donated just over $1 million to his campaign. He’s also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from a wide circle of celebrity friends, political supporters, business interests and relatives. In the general election, Shriver, who has spent years investing and working on charitable endeavors, has forgone self-funding, relying entirely on contributions.

Shriver’s election run continues to draw substantial support from red-carpet regulars, high-profile business leaders, and Kennedy family members around the country.

The arts and entertainment world, including film moguls Stephen Bing ($10,000) and TriStar Pictures Chairman Thomas Rothman ($25,300), accounts for $628,425 of the money raised by committees supporting his candidacy.

An additional $450,190 has come from donors in the financial services sector (billionaire investor Warren Buffett, $9,800; Kong Leung of APA Investments, $35,000). Real estate interests have contributed $435,485 to the Shriver effort (Nelson Rising of L.A.-based Rising Realty, $26,800; the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, $10,000).

A leading donor to the pro-Shriver committees has been the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an affiliated local, the Southwest Regional Council, which together gave $200,000. John Hanna, the Southwest Regional Council’s political director, said the trade group was impressed by Shriver’s commitment to finish the Westside subway extension and to build more housing near transit lines.

In debates, Shriver frequently talks of the need for more housing to alleviate an affordable housing crunch and rising rents. He’s also voiced support for streamlining decisions on environmental lawsuits brought against developments.

“We feel he’ll do a great job moving L.A. County forward with infrastructure development, good jobs and increased property values for the homes of our members, as well as other people,” Hanna said. “A lot of our members are priced out of the markets because of restrictive zoning....You need people who are creative and willing to look at innovative ideas.”

Other large donors to pro-Shriver committees include Mapleton Investments, an investment company associated with progressive causes ($60,600); California Real Estate PAC ($91,500); and the Chernin Group, a media and technology business holding company ($51,800).

Employees of the law firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillips, a registered county lobbying firm, gave Shriver $12,300, about $5,000 more than company employees gave to Kuehl.

Committees supporting Shriver also received $26,800 from Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, who heads the Emerson Collective, a foundation supporting education, immigration reform and social justice.

Employees of concert promoter Live Nation gave Shriver and pro-Shriver groups $13,800; employees of the Nederlander Organization, which has been battling Live Nation over a lucrative venue contract at the city-owned Greek Theatre, gave $12,800. The county operates the Hollywood Bowl and other similar concert venues.

Shriver received $5,800 from Gehry Partners, architect Frank Gehry’s group, which is working on the joint city-county Grand Avenue residential and commercial project in downtown Los Angeles. He also got a total of $3,600 from Related CA, Related California and Related Strategies, affiliates of Related Cos., which is the developer on that project.

Pro-Shriver committees have sent out mailers and purchased newspaper ads touting the candidate as a job creator who will cut red tape for business and help the vote-rich San Fernando Valley get its “fair share” of funding for transit lines. The candidate and outside committees have also sent mailers questioning Kuehl’s record in Sacramento.

Times staff writers Abby Sewell and Garrett Therolf contributed to this report.

Follow @csaillant2 for more news about the supervisorial race.