Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel makes a point during the Zocalo/KCRW debate… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel, after spending heavily on a TV advertising blitz that coincided with the start of early voting, entered the final stretch of the runoff campaign with roughly one-tenth the war chest of rival Eric Garcetti, according to new campaign finance reports.
Greuel, the city's controller, also lagged behind Garcetti in fundraising. She reported raising nearly $937,000 in the four weeks ending Saturday and loaning her campaign $100,000, pushing her just past the $1-million mark in documents her campaign filed with the City Ethics Commission late Thursday.
Greuel had just $275,000 cash on hand as of May 4. That could leave much of the effort to elect her in the campaign's final days to the city employee unions and other supporters that have been working separately on her behalf.
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Appearing at a news conference on Olvera Street, Greuel said she had no regrets about her spending strategy.
"I'm not one of those people who waits until the last week to say I'm going to spend my money," she told reporters. "People are voting now and it was the smart thing to do and the right thing to do, and we'll have the resources necessary to win this campaign."
Garcetti, a city councilman, had a strong lead in a poll of voters several weeks ago, but a poll released Thursday by the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles showed the two candidates in a dead heat. Greuel attributed her surge to her advertising and noted that she continues to raise money.
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"Fifty percent of the people will vote before election day. I've sent my message out. It's clear in the polls that my message is resonating with the public," she said.
Greuel's campaign spent $2.6 million over four weeks and incurred debts of nearly $535,000, more than half of which is owed to a firm run by her chief campaign strategist, John Shallman. Garcetti raised $1.6 million in the same period and spent $1.4 million, leaving the councilman with $2.3 million cash on hand. That reserve is expected to fund a heavy ad rotation in the final stretch before the May 21 election. Garcetti reported nearly $105,000 in debt.
Greuel has a financial edge that Garcetti does not — nearly $5.7 million in support from outside groups, compared to $1.1 million for Garcetti. While candidates can receive a maximum of $1,300 per donor per election, those independent expenditure committees are not subject to limits as long as they do not coordinate with a candidate's campaign.
City employee groups, notably the unions representing police officers and most workers at the city's Department of Water and Power, make up a significant share of the outside spending on Greuel's behalf.
While Greuel has had to reduce her spending on television — at one point going dark — the independent efforts funded by the unions and other backers have been able to fill the gap, notably with an advertising featuring President Clinton stumping with Greuel at Langer's Deli. While the ads contain a disclaimer identifying the groups funding them, a casual viewer could easily think that the messages are from Greuel's campaign.
Greuel's outside backers have also waged an expensive mailer campaign to undercut Garcetti's reputation, sending voters glossy brochures that accuse him of driving the city to the "brink of bankruptcy." Working Californians, the committee controlled by officials with the DWP union, has sent nine mailers attacking Garcetti over a two-week span and several more that promote Greuel.
Garcetti said Greuel is "broke" and dependent on union support.
"I'm now officially running against the DWP-union-funded super PAC," he said, after appearing at a Mexican Mother's Day event at San Antonio Winery in Lincoln Heights. "Obviously there's other expenditures — [former Dodgers owner] Frank McCourt, the police union, etc. — but it's pretty crystal clear."
Garcetti attributed Greuel's surge to "two weeks and a lot of money" spent on negative ads by her campaign and outside groups.
"When you spend that amount of money on negative attack ads, it's a proven and cynical technique to come back," he said. "But in the last two weeks we're going to finish very strong."
Greuel dismissed Garcetti's charge that her campaign is being sustained by union money.
"It's just absolutely false," Greuel said. "I have raised a substantial amount of money. I have spent it, absolutely. Because the people are voting today."
In the city attorney's race, challenger Mike Feuer continues to lead incumbent Carmen Trutanich in fundraising.
Feuer, a former councilman and past member of the state Assembly, raised nearly $209,000 and has $126,000 cash on hand. Trutanich brought in nearly $110,000 and has nearly $84,000 remaining, according to reports filed with the city. Both have a little more than $50,000 in unpaid bills.
After he was sued earlier this year by a Trutanich supporter accusing him of violating city campaign laws, Feuer formed a legal defense fund. A separate report filed Thursday showed the fund has raised $38,500, paid $35,000 in legal fees and owes $49,119 to the firm handling Feuer's defense, Manatt Phelps & Phillips. Feuer has denied any wrongdoing.
Times staff writers David Zahniser and Jean Merl contributed to this report.