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Los Angeles City Elections 2013

Whose attacks ads are those?

The L.A. mayoral race has shown the problem with independent supporters' ads for the candidates.

May 15, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaking to media, left, and Wendy Greuel.
Los Angeles mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaking to media, left, and… (Associated Press )

Of the many ways in which independent expenditures distort modern political life, among the most destructive is the obliteration of candidate accountability. The campaign for mayor of Los Angeles offers, unfortunately, the latest reminder.

LAX runway: A May 15 editorial about advertising in the L.A. mayoral race said that Wendy Greuel supports moving the north runway at LAX. In fact, she believes that airport authorities and local residents should seek a compromise.

A few days ago, independent supporters of Controller Wendy Greuel sent out a mailer, in English and Spanish, that highlighted these sentences: "On May 21, our votes can raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. We are working hard to elect la Wendy our mayor so she can raise the minimum wage."

Here's the problem with that: Greuel has never supported raising the city's minimum wage. In fact, there is no city minimum wage. She has told representatives of the local hotel workers union that she would back a new city minimum wage of $15 an hour for workers in large hotels in the city of Los Angeles, but even that may or may not come to pass (one of Greuel's other supporters is the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the hotel minimum-wage proposal).

ENDORSEMENTS: Los Angeles City Elections 2013

If Greuel or her campaign had sent out this mailer, it would be subject to withering criticism for its obvious falsehoods and pandering. But in fact it was the work of a group with the ungainly name "Coalition for Better Schools and Communities to Support Cedillo, Price and Choi for Council and Greuel for Mayor in 2013." That group gets its funding from organized labor and is, as it notes in the fine print of the mailer, "not authorized by or coordinated with" any candidate in this election. So Greuel gets the benefit of anyone who's fooled by the claims but can't be held responsible for making them.

She's not alone in benefiting from the lack of accountability that goes with independent expenditures. Supporters of Councilman Eric Garcetti sent out a mailer last week that touts his opposition to moving the north runway at LAX — Greuel supports the move — and charged that Greuel was "putting big business before our families." This week, a television ad accuses her of turning her office over to "political operatives." Los Angeles, the ad concludes, "can't afford a mayor like that." Another ad, this one in Spanish, reminds voters that she was once a Republican and juxtaposes her picture next to that of former Gov. Pete Wilson, still unpopular among Latinos for his support of Proposition 187, which sought to deny benefits and services to people in the country illegally.

That's the work of yet another "independent" committee, in this case one that calls itself "Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor." Would Garcetti himself try to connect Greuel and Wilson and thus be subject to criticism for that attenuated link? We won't know because he doesn't have to.

WATCH: Garcetti video interview | Greuel video interview

Independent expenditures are not going anywhere. They are constitutionally protected vehicles for people and organizations participating in politics. But they are doing damage, and that damage begins with protecting candidates from accountability for the very campaign messages that may help them win.

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