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Here's how you spend $600,000 on 19 consultants in a Senate race

Here's how you spend $600,000 on 19 consultants in a Senate race
Attorney General Kamala Harris at a September event in Los Angeles. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris spent more than $600,000 on 19 political and fundraising consultants between January and the end of September – close to three times the amount spent combined by her Democratic rival and the three top Republicans in the race.

The outside consultants who have worked on the Harris campaign over the last year include some of the most successful political advisors and campaign fundraisers in California and across the nation, including aides who worked for Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Also on the list is the Smoot Tewes Group, a Washington, D.C., firm run in part by Julianna Smoot, who served as President Obama's chief campaign finance advisor, and Paul Tewes, who worked with Obama’s campaign. Harris paid the firm $60,000 to boost her campaign coffers.

In fact, most of Harris’ consultant spending was for fundraising — helping her raise $5.9 million through September, far more than any other candidate in the race. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana) came in second with $1.84 million, including a $300,000 personal loan to her Senate campaign. Sanchez spent $119,000 on political and fundraising consultants, and the top three Republicans in the race, combined, have spent $97,700, federal election records show.

Harris' spending on consultants is double the amount Republican Marco Rubio spent on the first nine months of his successful 2010 Senate campaign in Florida.

But compared to Warren, it seems downright frugal. She spent $2.74 million on consultants during her campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown in 2012, including $423,720 in just the first three months.

A review of campaign finance records showed the largest payments ($85,000 between January and September) were to SCN Strategies. The San Francisco political strategy firm, which includes Ace Smith, Sean Clegg and Dan Newman, has worked with Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. SCN has worked on Harris’ campaigns for attorney general and San Francisco district attorney.

During the first nine months of the year, Harris paid $80,399 to Mather Martin, who now lives in New York. Martin served as Harris' finance director during her first statewide bid and recently worked on Booker's successful Senate campaign in New Jersey.

Brian Brokaw, a Sacramento-based political and public affairs consultant who had been a Harris advisor since her 2010 campaign, was paid $63,000, the records show.

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FOR THE RECORD

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Dec. 22, 8:55 a.m.: This article implies that political consultant Brian Brokaw no longer works for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. He continues to work for her.

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Other consulting expenditures included:

Campaign finance advisor Erin Minceberg, $54,000

Phoenix Strategies of Beverly Hills, $50,000.

Lindsay Rachelefsky of Los Angeles, $46,000. A former Obama fundraiser who also worked for the Democratic National Committee, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Harry Reid's Senate Majority PAC.

Bartolina & Barnato Inc. of Sacramento, $34,500. The firm earned $297,358 working for Harris' 2014 reelection campaign and counts Newsom and State Treasurer John Chiang as clients.

Harris paid Amy Thornton of San Francisco $32,581; Beth Foster Consultants of Minneapolis $26,000; Yost Gold Consulting of Washington, D.C., $20,300; LED Strategy Group of Washington, D.C., $13,300; and Tatiana Acosta of Los Angeles $10,900.

Harris paid $10,500 to Brian Luebitz of San Francisco, who runs the left-leaning political blog calitics.com.

She paid $9,000 to Colleen Coffey of Boston, a fundraiser for Warren, and former Warren finance director Michael Pratt of New York was paid $9,000.

Bill Carrick, Sanchez's top political consultant, said it is far too early in the campaign to be spending money on media experts and a crew of political advisors. The primary is still more than six months away, and most voters in California aren't yet paying much attention, he said.

"Managing scarce resources is going to be a huge challenge in this race," Carrick said. "The two big things you got to do now is, one, you got to do the fundraising. And you have to do the best job you can to get better known."

Carrick has yet to be paid, and said his compensation will come in the months ahead when the congresswoman starts launching her media and advertising campaign.

Just over half of Sanchez's spending on consultants — $60,000 — has gone to Maravich Associates in Los Angeles, a campaign fundraising firm that has worked for Brown, former Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the state Democratic Party and Harris' successful 2010 campaign.

Sanchez paid $30,000 to Tim Allison, who was executive secretary-treasurer of the Ventura-based Tri-Counties Central Labor Council and helped set up Sanchez's Senate campaign operation.

She paid $18,900 to Public Policy Solutions, a San Luis Obispo public relations and consulting firm. It is run by veteran Democratic political consultant Cory Black, and recently worked on Betty Yee's successful campaign for state controller and for state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel).

Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at UC San Diego, said Harris mostly likely used her advantage in fundraising to cement her dominance in the race by investing in political research and building a fundraising operation. Her spending may not provide the best "political optics" but at this stage of the campaign, it probably won't dent her image or inhibit future donors, he said.

"As long as she can convince them that she's on their side, and most likely to win, then most donors can live with it," Jacobson said. "At this point, I don't think it puts her at any risk."

The filings through Sept. 30 show Harris had spent more than 40% of the funds she has raised. Sanchez had spent 15% of her fundraising total.

Harris has been under scrutiny for the high burn rate and as her campaign finance filings revealed frequent stays at posh hotels. (One 2013 campaign trip in March yielded a $1,886 bill for the St. Regis in Washington, D.C., and another in July cost $1,682 at the same hotel.)

The money was being spent so fast and attracted so much attention that Harris hit the brakes in November. She replaced her campaign manager and announced that she was paring back the number of consultants.

"Like every campaign, we're making adjustments in alignment with our strategy to win. We have always had a very aggressive fundraising strategy, and Kamala Harris has proven herself to be one of the strongest fundraisers in the country," said campaign spokesman Nathan Click. "Our campaign is going to have the resources to win in June and November, and, as we've noted previously, we are making some additional reductions to our consultants and staff to put our campaign in the strongest position to win."

A Field Poll in early October found Harris led the Senate race with 30% support among likely California voters. Sanchez was second with 17%. Among Republicans, Oceanside Assemblyman Rocky Chavez was the front-runner, with 9% support. Contra Costa County attorney Tom Del Beccaro had 6% and Silicon Valley attorney George "Duf" Sundheim had 3%.

Javier Panzar contributed to this report.

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