From left, Jan Perry, Kevin James and Wendy Greuel listen to Eric Garcetti… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
The top two Democratic candidates in the Los Angeles mayor's race, Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, continued to outpace their rivals in the last three months of 2012, boosting their fundraising totals to more than $4 million each and ensuring a fiercely contested race in the coming weeks.
And an independent group backing long-shot Republican candidate Kevin James brought an unpredictable element to the race by collecting six-figure donations, one of them from a deep-pocketed GOP donor.
Greuel, the city controller, and Garcetti, a councilman, remained remarkably close in their fundraising. In the final quarter, Garcetti raised $727,503 to Greuel's $672,230, according to Thursday's filings with the city Ethics Commission. Councilwoman Jan Perry was a distant third, raising $157,282 in the period for a total of $2 million including matching funds.
Garcetti has nearly $3.6 million in cash on hand with city matching funds —about 10% more than Greuel.
"This will be one of the most expensive races in L.A. history," Garcetti consultant Bill Carrick said, "so we must keep raising money and getting out the vote every day until election day, and we will."
In a statement, Greuel said she had attracted a diverse group of supporters and will "work as hard as I can to earn the trust and support of voters across the city."
The new figures show that Garcetti and Greuel, and perhaps Perry, will have the money to air television ads in the run-up to the March 5 primary. Voters can begin casting ballots by mail in the first week of February.
James, the sole Republican among the main contenders, had not released fundraising figures as of late Thursday evening. But a super PAC backing his bid collected $200,000 last year from just two donors, the filings show. One contribution came from one of the Republican Party's most prominent super PAC donors: Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons, who dedicated millions to defeating President Obama last year.
The pro-James super PAC, Better Way L.A., which can collect unlimited donations, was formed by Republican ad man Fred Davis to raise the profile of the former prosecutor and talk-radio host. When Davis created the committee in November, he announced that the group had already raised a half-million dollars and hoped to bring in at least $3.5 million, a sum that could turn James' dark horse candidacy into a viable threat.
But the committee did not collect any money until mid-December, the filings show.
The second $100,000 contribution came from Chicago-based Henry Crown & Co., an investment company with an array of holdings in manufacturing, real estate and sports teams that include the Chicago Bulls. James Crown, who heads Crown & Co., was one of the top donation bundlers for Obama's presidential campaign — raising more than $1 million in the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Simmons' contributions in the 2012 presidential campaign rivaled those of Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who for months single-handedly kept the presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich afloat with super PAC donations.
The $100,000 contribution to the pro-James group was relatively small for Simmons, whose net worth of $7.1 billion placed him 49th on the Forbes 400 list of the world's wealthiest people.
Simmons, his wife, Annette, and his Contran Corp. donated $20.5 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove. Simmons' first contributions to a super PAC supporting GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also were in $100,000 increments. Ultimately, Simmons donated $2.3 million to the pro-Romney effort.
Davis, a former strategist for President George W. Bush and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has a lengthy and controversial track record. An independent committee he led for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's 2012 presidential bid had minimal impact.
It was largely funded by the candidate's billionaire father and created an introductory ad featuring a motorcyclist driving through the Utah desert that perplexed Republican operatives. In the 2010 election cycle, he created an infamous ad featuring a Delaware U.S. Senate candidate declaring, "I am not a witch."
A fifth mayoral candidate, Emanuel A. Pleitez, qualified for city matching funds, according to his campaign, which reported that he raised a total of $212,954, including $102,711 in the last quarter of 2012. The 30-year-old candidate, who is chief technology officer for Spokeo, can now receive matching city funds for the first $500 of every individual's contribution. City law limits individual contributions to $1,300 per election.