In a legally controversial boost to Michael Woo's campaign for mayor of Los Angeles, the Democratic National Committee has weighed in with more than $100,000 for mailers supporting the councilman, campaign spending records show.
The action came just days after a state judge, citing a California constitutional ban on political party spending in nonpartisan municipal campaigns, blocked a promised $200,000 in expenditures for Woo by the state Democratic Party.
State GOP Chairman Tirso del Junco called the Democratic National Committee's action "total contempt for the law" and said Republican Party lawyers are looking into the possibility of going back to court.
Joe Scott, communications director for Woo's rival, Richard Riordan, said: "Only time will tell whether the DNC conspired with the state Democratic Party. If so, there was a violation of the Superior Court injunction."
An appellate court upheld the injunction Thursday.
Joe Sandler, legal counsel to the Democratic National Party, said the new tactic to aid Woo was legal because the state ban only applies to state-chartered political parties.
He said the national party decision to help Woo came after the state court ruling against the California party.
"It doesn't violate the spirit of the (ruling) because . . . the state court decision only applies to the California Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Central Committee."
Sandler acknowledged that his interpretation had never been legally challenged, but he insisted that the national party's involvement is on sound footing.
"We made a decision . . . with the President's support of Michael Woo and the poll we've done (that) Michael Woo is a strong and solid candidate for the citizens of Los Angeles," said Catherine Moore, a Washington spokeswoman for the national party.
Moore said she had no specific information on how many mailers had been sent or the extent of any additional expenditures that may be made before Tuesday's election.
"I don't think we're sitting around with another $300,000 in a committee or anything," she said. "But anything's possible."
One campaign expert, who asked not to be identified, noted that the state constitutional ban prohibits any political party from endorsing or making expenditures in nonpartisan races.
But the ban may apply only to state parties, the expert acknowledged.
Cecilia Gallardo of California Common Cause, a political watchdog group, said: "I guess my understanding of the judges' ruling was that because this is a nonpartisan race, partisan organizations cannot get involved. And clearly, the Democratic National Committee is a partisan organization."
The last-minute assist from the national Democratic Party gives Woo another chance to get his message out to voters in the crucial final days of the campaign. But for many voters, the last-minute mailers will be irrelevant.
Despite the nasty tone of the campaign, a record number of absentee ballots is piling up for Tuesday's election.
An unprecedented 174,070 voters have requested absentee ballots, according to election officials. Of those, 77,803 ballots have been cast--more than double the number cast for the same period before the April primary.
With voters able to cast absentee ballots until the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the number of ballots is certain to easily exceed the record of 92,339 cast in the primary, city elections chief Kris Heffron said.
Clint Reilly, Riordan's campaign strategist, said he expects the number of absentee ballots to climb to between 120,000 and 130,000 by Election Day and predicted that his candidate will win absentee votes "by a huge percentage."
Riordan won 46% of the absentee ballots in the primary--10% more than his overall total and nearly 30% more than Woo collected. His campaign began soliciting absentee votes for the general election the next day, Reilly said. "Absentee balloting has been a big part of our strategy from the start," Reilly said.
Many of the 350,000 households targeted as sympathetic voters by the Riordan campaign have been sent absentee ballot materials in a series of mass mailings, Reilly said, although he declined to give a figure.
Rick Ruiz, Woo's press secretary, said: "It's difficult to predict what absentee turnout means for turnout on Election Day."
Ruiz said the Woo campaign has mounted a "significant, full-service absentee voter campaign," although he declined to say what that entailed.
"It is extremely important for Riordan to do well in the absentee vote," which is traditionally cast by more conservative voters, Ruiz said. "It's not the same life and death issue for us."
Ruiz said it is difficult to predict whether Woo will be able to whittle away at Riordan's significant margin in absentee votes in the primary, but said "we will be competitive."