Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina begins the race for the 1st District seat on the County Board of Supervisors with access to the largest war chest of any candidate, thanks to a court ruling that permits the transfer of political funds from one campaign to another.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the councilwoman will take advantage of her initial funding advantage. Molina campaign officials said they will not tap her City Council coffer in the run for supervisor, but opponents doubted that claim.
The nine candidates who filed Nov. 30 for the supervisor's seat--in a district that stretches from El Sereno and Lincoln Heights east to Irwindale and La Puente and southeast to Santa Fe Springs--will file their first campaign finance reports Thursday for the Jan. 22 special election.
But the four big-name candidates in the race--Molina, state Sen. Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier), former supervisorial aide Sarah Flores and state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles)--already have collected funds for previous campaigns.
State and local campaign officials have told the candidates that a federal court ruling last year permits them to use the money raised for one office in a campaign for another. Fund transfers between campaigns had been prohibited until the court overruled parts of the 1988 campaign reform initiative, Proposition 73.
Although campaign reports for the supervisorial candidates are not up to date, previously filed reports give an idea of how much money the opponents hold as fund raising begins in earnest. Campaign observers estimate it will cost at least $500,000 to win the supervisor's seat. That includes the cost of a Feb. 19 runoff between the two leading candidates if, as many observers anticipate, no one wins more than 50% of the vote in the Jan. 22 election.
The previously filed campaign reports show that:
* Molina's four City Council campaign committees had a total of $100,818 cash on hand as of June 30. Molina has had little cause to expend funds since then, since her next city election would not be until 1993.
* Torres, reelected handily to the state Senate last month, had $64,678 cash on hand when he filed his last campaign statement Oct. 20. That amount had been reduced to $30,000 by the end of his reelection campaign last month, said campaign spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers. She said $20,000 of that has been transferred to the supervisorial campaign as "seed money."
* Flores had $15,813 in cash as of June 30. About the same amount remained in her account going into a $500-a-plate dinner this Wednesday that is sponsored by several elected officials, including supervisors Deane Dana and Mike Antonovich, said Flores campaign consultant Eric Rose.
Flores raised her money for a June primary in the 1st District and an anticipated November runoff, but those races were nullified when U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon ruled that the county's previous district boundaries illegally diluted the voting strength of Latinos. The January special election will be contested in a new 1st District drawn under Kenyon's order. The majority of the district's registered voters are Latino.
* Calderon had $13,467 in campaign funds as of Oct. 20, following an April special election that elevated him from the Assembly to the state Senate. The candidate said he has transferred $5,500 of his Senate money to his supervisorial campaign fund.
Molina aides said they are pleased they can use their large treasury but plan to start their fund raising from scratch.
"Obviously it's a blessing, because it gives us a pool of money to start out," said Molina press secretary Robert Alaniz. "Any time you have to raise half a million dollars within a short period of time . . . the fact we can transfer money over creates a great boost for us."
But Alaniz said Molina wants to use the City Council campaign funds only as a last resort, preferring to keep the money in her council campaign treasury.
The money "is a safety factor, just in case we need it," Alaniz said. "But we don't think we will have to dip into it."
Torres campaign officials, however, doubted that Molina would forsake her war chest. Myers, the Torres spokeswoman, claimed that Molina is merely downplaying the importance of the funds because the money explodes an image that she is trying to cultivate.
"They are trying to bill Gloria as a grass-roots politician who is out there pounding the pavement," Myers said. "And $100,000 is a big war chest. You don't associate that with grass-roots candidates."
A representative of another campaign, who requested anonymity, suggested that Molina might try to benefit from her council funds indirectly. Since 25% of the voters in the 1st Supervisorial District also live in Molina's council district, the theory goes, she could boost her run for supervisor simply by sending council-related mailers to her current constituents in the city of Los Angeles.