The news about the formation of the Super PAC dedicated to the election of conservative Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James two weeks ago has created quite a stir, including some comments by the other three viable candidates, all political insiders that can be called hypocritical, if not misleading.
Prior to the announcement of the Better Way LA political action committee by Los Angeles-based media consultant Fred Davis, who has worked for Sen. John McCain and former president George W. Bush, the campaign has successfully raised the required minimum contributions, including over $500,000 in contribution commitments within the first three weeks of his candidacy announcement and over $220,000 in small-donor matchable contributions. Of course, these amounts still placed him behind the fundraising levels of the three career city politicians running for mayor. According to a Los Angeles City Ethics Commission website, as of September 30th, 2012, L.A. City Councilmember Eric Garcetti had raised $2.87 million, City Controller Wendy Greul had raised $2.8 million, L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry had raised $1.3M, and even former candidate & Deputy Mayor Austin Buetner had raised $1.8M before dropping out. In the same report, James reported $275K in contributions.
According to the L.A. Daily News, Davis stated that he had raised $500,000 at the time of the Better Way LA announcement and hoped to raise at least $3.5 million more on behalf of James. His interest in helping James came after he attended one of the recent mayoral debates where he witnessed first-hand how James was calling out his three opponents as being among those responsible for putting the city in the fiscal mess it is in. In the very first mayoral debate, James wasted no time launching into offense.
“City Hall is broken,” he said. “And they broke it.”, referring directly to Garcetti, Greul and Perry.
Following the PAC formation announcement, each of the three mayoral campaigns issued sharp reactions.
Garcetti’s campaign blog site stated this: “This Super PAC was started by a seasoned Republican operative who specializes in political smear campaigns. He has created vicious attack ads against President Obama and Senator Boxer. Now, he’s focusing on the L.A. mayor’s race, and it’s clear who the target is.”
It continued, ”Eric Garcetti is the biggest threat to everything these Super PACs support. With a single check, they can raise more money than Eric has during the entire campaign.”
Greul’s campaign sent out this statement to its distribution list following the announcement: “”At any moment, we could see an unprecedented avalanche of negative campaign ads paid for by anonymous outsiders attacking Wendy and dividing Angelenos against each other.“
Davis responded to this claim by the Greul campaign by stating, “I’ve seen these whackjob emails about me and the Super PAC saying it’s anonymous dollars. It’s not.” He continued, “You list every penny. There are enormous penalties for not being clear and transparent. Any donors will be listed.”
Perry’s campaign issued a more generic statement about the impact of the new PAC. Perry consultant Eric Hacopian called the formation of the PAC a significant development.
There is no doubt that the mere presence of James in the mayoral race has caused significant actions and notable remarks by the three political insiders. At a recent debate, when James complained that DWP employee costs have skyrocketed, Perry said she regretted her 2007 vote for raises for city workers, which budget officials have since said the city can’t afford. (Garcetti and Greul, then a council member, also voted for the contract.) James suggested that lawmakers approved rate hikes at the Department of Water and Power because they are afraid to stand up to utility employee unions.
In an obvious attempt to break herself away from Greuel and Garcetti, who have benefited from past campaign spending by the DWP electrical workers’ union, Perry responded, “Just for the record, my number is not on speed dial for Brian D’Arcy,” alluding to the leader of the powerful International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union local representing city workers. “He doesn’t even like me.”
The recent vote to place a sales tax increase on the March ballot, alongside the primary election for mayor, showed that both Garcetti and Perry voted against the increase. Greuel also voiced public opposition to the sales tax increase, according to KPCC radio, 89.3 FM.
“The City of Los Angeles has just spent a lot of time focusing on cutting and taxing our way out of this recession and that’s not really a formula for success. Layering more and more taxes will chase more and more businesses away,” Garcetti said.
While it is interesting to see how the three have had to pivot sharply to the right due to the increased political viability of James, most of us Angelenos know the history and political alliances of these three, and their disclosed contributors reflects that. All three have voted for sales tax increases in the past, and all three were supporters of Measure B in 2009, which was the blatant gift attempt by current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for “solar energy” work for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
The biggest effect of the new PAC may be in the level of disclosure and dissemination that the James campaign will have enabled. While James has been strong-willed and stead-fast at earlier mayoral debates, the ability to disseminate statements made at these debates, mostly restricted to the membership of the hosting organizations, will force the three insiders to be more prepared to stand behind earlier votes and decision calls made based on previous special interest support.
What is most apparent, though, is that the strategy of simply ignoring the campaign of Kevin James, like each has been able to do when challenged in their earlier campaigns for city office, will no longer be an option. Whether they like it or not, Kevin James will be a popular consideration for city residents looking for true and significant change in how the City of Los Angeles is run, not just for Republicans and those intrigued by the possibility of the city’s first openly-gay mayor.
Could the revival of municipal government accountability in the state of California actually start in its largest city? However remote that seemed when James first declared in March, the opportunity has rarely been greater since the formation of this new PAC.