Eric Garcetti answers a question during a candidates debate at Loyola Marymount… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)
Supporters of Eric Garcetti are launching an independent campaign to spend money on his behalf in the Los Angeles mayor's race in an effort to level the playing field with his chief rival, Wendy Greuel.
Its organizers are Mary Jane Stevenson, who was the California director of President Obama's reelection campaign, and Rick Jacobs, a Democratic fundraiser and founder of the liberal Courage Campaign.
They hope it will serve as Garcetti's counterweight to independent spending by public employee unions, Hollywood moguls and other supporters of Greuel, the city controller.
FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor
"We are not going to sit idly by and watch a small group of institutions and billionaires put up all the money for an election," Jacobs said Thursday.
Independent groups, led by unions for police officers and employees of the city Department of Water and Power, have reported raising more than $1 million to spend for Greuel. Their billboards and TV commercials have given her an advertising edge over Garcetti, a city councilman.
Donations to mayoral candidates are capped at $1,300, but contributions to independent committees are unlimited.
The DWP union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, has put $250,000 into one committee, Working Californians to Elect Wendy Greuel for Mayor 2013. DreamWorks movie studio co-founders David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg have donated $50,000 apiece. Before her election to the City Council in 2002, Greuel oversaw government relations and political fundraising for the DreamWorks trio.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League has formed another committee, which has reported spending $305,000 on TV advertising for Greuel.
Another candidate, entertainment lawyer Kevin James, has raised too little for TV ads, but an independent committee formed by Republican ad maker Fred Davis plans to start airing one on Friday. The committee has raised a little more than $700,000, including $600,000 from billionaire Texas businessman Harold Simmons.
With the March 5 mayoral primary less than three weeks away, the new Garcetti group is getting a late start. If it succeeds in raising a substantial sum, it could prove most helpful to Garcetti in the May 21 runoff, should he finish first or second in the primary.
"We're going to fight fire with fire," Stevenson said.
Stevenson brings operational heft to the group. As state director of Obama's reelection campaign, she oversaw a sprawling operation of California volunteers who were deployed in presidential battleground states. She will try to build a quick and efficient field operation to maximize turnout of Garcetti supporters.
Jacobs brings one of the city's most prized Democratic fundraising Rolodexes to the effort, as well as expertise in grass-roots organizing from his work building Courage Campaign into a major force for liberal causes in California. Jacobs said the committee would raise money at least in the "mid-six figures" from a broad base of donors for both fieldwork and advertising.