With less than a month to go in West Hollywood's council race, millionaire candidate Gene La Pietra has already raised and spent more than $150,000, far surpassing his rivals and ensuring that his campaign will be the costliest in the city's brief political history.
According to campaign financial statements filed last week, La Pietra has lent his campaign $75,000. Ermilio Lemos, La Pietra's business partner, lent the campaign another $71,000. La Pietra raised an additional $6,750 in campaign contributions. And by Sept. 30, when campaign financial statements were submitted to the West Hollywood City Clerk, La Pietra had already spent $149,470 on his campaign.
In contrast, La Pietra's major opponent, Abbe Land, has raised slightly more than $13,000 and spent about $9,000. The third candidate in the race, furniture dealer Stephen D. Michael, has raised $3,400 and spent nearly $4,200.
La Pietra's campaign manager, Rick Taylor, contended that Land's expenditures appear low because she has failed to report several major campaign outlays. Citing those omissions, Taylor asked the state Fair Political Practices Commission this week to investigate Land's campaign finances.
"If they're breaking the law, and we think they are, they should be charged and fined immediately," Taylor said. "There are some obvious and blatant violations of the law."
Taylor said items not reported on Land's financial statements include salaries for her campaign managers, Barbara Grover and Parke Skelton, and payments for telephone and utility services. "We know that Abbe Land has used these services," Taylor said. "Those payments should have been reported."
Grover replied that Taylor's request for the investigation was "a political ploy" designed to draw attention away from La Pietra's heavy campaign expenditures. "It is a typical campaign tactic, and one that the Fair Political Practices Commission always laughs off," she said. "It's ridiculous."
Grover said neither she nor Skelton has been paid. And she added that Land has yet to pay any campaign telephone or utility bills. "We'll list them on our statements when we pay them," Grover said.
Until this council campaign, the third election in West Hollywood's three years as an incorporated city, the highest-spending candidate had been Mayor Stephen Schulte. In his reelection campaign earlier this year, Schulte spent at least $115,000, according to financial statements. But Schulte said this week that he had actually spent only $65,000, with the remainder going to pay off older campaign debts.
Grover and Skelton maintained that La Pietra could end up spending as much as $300,000 for his council seat. "He still hasn't paid for campaign mailings or for some of his staff," Skelton said. "What it takes to win a campaign hasn't even shown up in any of his financial statements."
Although La Pietra declined to speculate on how much he will spend ("That's a strategy decision," he said), he said his campaign costs would be high because he is "running a positive campaign. We're trying to get out the issues. Our opponents have it easier because they are waging a negative campaign."
Land's political fortunes were bolstered last month by revelations that La Pietra was convicted in the early 1970s on federal and state obscenity charges. Land has stressed La Pietra's failure to make those charges public early in the campaign.
Land, who estimates that she will not spend more than $50,000 on her race, charged that La Pietra "is trying to buy this election." And Grover added that La Pietra's willingness to spend so much reflects poorly on his fiscal responsibility.
"He's wasting his money," she said. "Here's a man who plays up his own financial responsibility and he's throwing money away. It makes you wonder what he would do with the city's money."
Michael echoed Land's charge that La Pietra is trying to buy the election and added that the $159,000 La Pietra has raised is a "scary" figure.
La Pietra replied that his free-spending campaign is consistent with rising campaign costs in West Hollywood and with the high cost of getting elected in California. "We're hardly out of line," he said.
Indeed, council candidates in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have grown used to paying $100,000 during the course of a campaign. In 1984, for example, Beverly Hills Mayor Charlotte Spadaro spent nearly $107,000.
But some West Hollywood activists say that the political costs in West Hollywood are excessive for a $400-a-month part-time council post. Ron Stone, who led the city's incorporation drive and twice failed to get elected to the council, has proposed campaign reform which could limit candidates' campaign expenditures to about $30,000.
Under Stone's proposal, candidates could still spend whatever amount they thought was necessary. But if they preferred to keep their costs low, they could promise to stay within campaign expenditure limits and in return, the city would assume some of campaign costs and distribute information about their campaign stands.