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Rivals' run for money begins anew

City ethics laws bar Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti from using funds from the primary in the runoff campaign.

March 07, 2013|By Maeve Reston, Seema Mehta and Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are headed to a runoff, which means replenishing their campaign treasuries -- and quickly.
Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel are headed to a runoff, which means replenishing… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

The vote counting isn't finished, but Los Angeles' surviving mayoral candidates have already moved on to a monumental new task: replenishing their campaign treasuries for the final and most intense phase of the campaign.

When the polls closed Tuesday, the campaigns were effectively broke. City ethics rules prohibit candidates from carrying over funds from the March primary and soliciting new money before they made the runoff.

For City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, that means quickly refocusing on a breakneck, behind-the-scenes race to rake in thousands of donations limited by city law to $1,300 or less. And they have 11 weeks to do it, only a fraction of the time they had in the primary.

Before Tuesday's vote, Garcetti and Greuel raised and spent more than $4 million each. They can now return to previous donors for a new round of contributions.

"We obviously need to raise millions to win in May," Greuel's campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said. "Tuesday night at 8 p.m., we had no events on the schedule, no money in the bank and only an idea of what we would do if we made it into the runoff."

Greuel's campaign could get a quick boost from independent groups that spent $2.8 million on her behalf in the primary for advertising and mailers, much of it collected from the city utility workers' union and entertainment industry leaders. Those groups are allowed to accept contributions of any amount as long as they don't coordinate activities with candidate-controlled committees. The union representing Department of Water and Power workers last month gave a single donation of $400,000 to an independent group supporting Greuel.

Based on the ballots counted so far, Greuel and the independent committees backing her spent about $93 per vote cast in her favor. Garcetti's campaign spent $53 per vote that he received. Independent groups spent only a few thousand on his behalf.

Despite the overall spending advantage by the Greuel forces, Garcetti finished nearly 11,000 votes — or 4 percentage points — ahead of the controller.

Independent spending for Greuel could accelerate. On Wednesday, an influential union representing 10,000 civilian city employees pledged its support to the city controller after staying on the sidelines in the primary.

"Greuel clearly benefits from the financial and organizational support that she gets from labor," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "But her challenge is going to be to figure out a way to tell those conservative Valley voters that she's not going to do everything unions ask her to do."

Thus far, Garcetti hasn't benefited from a comparable infusion of independent spending. Several unions have endorsed him, including United Teachers Los Angeles and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 770. But they have spent little or no money so far and have not committed to spend on his behalf in the runoff.

An independent group formed last month to mobilize voters in the runoff, Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti, has collected $200,000 from 29 individuals. They include talent agency founder Michael Ovitz and late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who have each given $10,000, and film producer Steve Tisch, who has given $25,000.

Also, now that Garcetti is in the runoff and a better bet to lead the nation's second-largest city, he may be able to tap a wider network of donors, drawing on connections he made as a state co-chair for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.

Garcetti campaign consultant Bill Carrick said his candidate's first-place finish had prompted a boost in contributions. "The nature of our donor base is so interesting because there are a lot of new people and a lot of small donors and those people are all jacked up," he said.

He said he knew of no one waiting in the wings to make six- or seven-figure contributions to support Garcetti's bid, akin to the Texas billionaires who buoyed candidate Kevin James' failed primary bid. "Hopefully, maybe there's a big Texas investment banker in our life, sometime in the future," he said, "Maybe I'll check my horoscope, I don't know of anyone like that."

Some observers said Greuel could suffer in the runoff from her association with the employee unions that are providing her with a financial advantage. With City Hall struggling to stave off more budget shortfalls, a USC Price/L.A. Times poll last week found voters prefer to see employee benefits scaled back before cutting city services.

"Obviously, the support was valuable to her, but it was the proverbial double-edged sword," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

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