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This Valley candidate got more votes with less money. Can she do it again?

This Valley candidate got more votes with less money. Can she do it again?
John Lee, left, is running against Loraine Lundquist, right, for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. (Kent Nishimura and Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

When Loraine Lundquist came out on top in the June primary for a Los Angeles City Council seat, her supporters crowed that she had done it despite being outspent.

Lundquist, a college educator focused on environmental issues, spent roughly $300,000 in her campaign and garnered hundreds more votes than John Lee, a former City Hall aide long seen as a front-runner in the race that included more than a dozen candidates. His campaign shelled out more than $460,000 ahead of the primary.

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The question is whether Lundquist can pull that off again. As Lee and Lundquist head for an August runoff, Lee once again has an edge in campaign cash, according to recently filed reports. In roughly a month, Lee raised over $121,000, while Lundquist brought in roughly $66,000 and bolstered it with a loan of nearly $35,000 to herself.

The “numbers show that there’s a lot of support for John in the community,” said Pat Dennis, senior strategist for the Lee campaign. “It’s putting us on track to run a winning campaign.”

Dennis added that loaning money to your own campaign, as Lundquist did, is “sleight of hand to make your numbers look stronger than they are.”

Lundquist campaign consultant Jesse Switzer said that before the June primary, they had always assumed Lee would raise more money because “he essentially had been anointed to succeed his bosses in the council office.” But, he added, “Dr. Lundquist’s credentials and message won the day” and she was working hard to do that again.

Loans “are not unusual, especially for first-time candidates whose backgrounds aren’t tied to the political establishment,” Switzer said.

The two candidates are vying to represent a San Fernando Valley district that includes neighborhoods such as Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Chatsworth. It is a relatively suburban part of Los Angeles that has long been represented by Republicans, despite the fact that Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats among registered voters there.

Although the council race is not partisan, the chance to flip the seat from red to blue has energized Democrats and progressive activists who have lined up behind Lundquist, a Democrat who has made climate change a core focus of her campaign.

Lundquist has garnered endorsements and campaign contributions from Democratic groups and environmental activists. Among her supporters are actress Alicia Silverstone; New York hedge fund manager Aaron Sosnick, who has backed arts, historic preservation and bicycling initiatives and gave the maximum donation of $800; and a political committee tied to the California Sierra Club.

Lee, a Republican, has emphasized his years of experience as chief of staff to the district’s last elected councilman, Mitchell Englander, who stepped down last year to take a job with a sports and entertainment firm.

Englander and Greig Smith, a former councilman appointed to fill the seat after Englander left, both donated to Lee’s campaign. He has also won endorsements from business groups and the union that represents L.A. police officers.

Much of the financial advantage that Lee holds over Lundquist is from donations from businesses, including construction and engineering firms and local businesses such as Northridge Toyota. A political action committee tied to the California hotel industry gave him the maximum contribution of $800.

A Times analysis found that donors connected to construction or the real estate industry provided more than $29,000 to Lee in the last fundraising period. Lundquist, who works at Cal State Northridge, got a greater share of money than Lee — over $11,000 — from donors tied to education or nonprofits and foundations.

Lundquist also got more money from politically affiliated groups such as the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats, while Lee had an edge in campaign funding from committees linked to labor unions.

All in all, Lee raised more money than Lundquist from donors in or near the council district, according to a Times analysis of the ZIP Codes listed for campaign donors. The former City Hall aide raised more than $45,000 from donors in ZIP Codes that overlap with the council district; Lundquist raised roughly $14,000 from donors in those areas.

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Political consultant Eric Hacopian, who is not working for anyone in the council race, said that in a special election that is likely to have low turnout, the fundraising edge for Lee is less important than it would be otherwise.

The reason? There is a much smaller “universe” of voters for candidates to reach, Hacopian said.

Lundquist “doesn’t need to raise more money than him,” Hacopian said. “She just needs to have enough money to say what she needs to say.”

The two candidates have gotten the same amount of matching funds from the city — taxpayer money meant to help level the playing field for grass-roots candidates. It remains to be seen how much will be poured into the race by independent committees, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts to champion their chosen candidates but are not permitted to coordinate with candidates or their campaigns.

Ahead of the June primary, Lee benefited from more than $57,000 in spending by a committee sponsored by the union that represents most workers at the Department of Water and Power, while committees linked to the League of Conservation Voters and Food & Water Watch spent more than $18,000 to support Lundquist, according to city records.

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