When it comes to raising campaign contributions, the candidates running in the Council District 1 and Council District 13 races can for the most part receive no more than $700 per person in each election. All those individual donations add up, with the candidates in both races having raised more than $1.5 million dollars so far. But there is another important source of campaign financial support – the independent expenditure – that is flowing into election, paying for everything from glossy mailers to billboards in support of or against specific candidates.
In the race for Council District 13 , which includes Atwater, Echo Park and Silver Lake, a single mailer in support of John Choi was paid for with an $11,800 independent expenditure made by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO Council on Political Education. An Echo Park Avenue billboard in favor of Council District 13 candidate Mitch O’Farrell came courtesy of a $2,376 independent expenditure by Echo Park resident Andrew Garsten. Meanwhile, in Council District 1, which stretches from Cypress Park and Mt. Washington to Angeleno Heights and MacArthur Park, a political action committee sponsored by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, used an independent expenditure of $11,121 against candidate Jose Gardea to pay for posters, including one that reads “Jose Gardea Failed Us,” in English and Spanish
Unlike campaign contributions, which are restricted by the city, there are no caps on independent expenditures. However, those expenditures have to be made independently of the candidates. Those expenditures cannot be made in coordination or with the approval of the candidates.
In total, more than $104,000 in independent expenditures have been spent so far in the Council District 1 election, according to the City Ethics Commission, which tracks the figures. Another $84,000 was reported in the Council District 13 race.
Who is making independent expenditures? In the case of Council Districts 1 and 13, unions and their political action committees have been the dominant players.
In Council District 1, State Assemblyman Gil Cedillo has benefited from more than $84,500 in independent expenditures made by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and its political action committees. In Council District 13, the same union groups supported former Public Works Commissioner John Choi with nearly $70,000 in expenditures.
Business groups and individuals have also weighed in, with the LA Jobs PAC Sponsored by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce – the same group that opposed Gardea in Council District 1 – spending $3,000 in favor of Council District 13 candidate Alexander Cruz De Ocampo.
Some of the candidates have started to make independent expenditures an issue. In a press release, Gardea, for example, said the independent expenditures being spent against him came from a group that had received money from large corporations, including Chevron. Meanwhile, Council District 13 candidate Josh Post announce that he had signed the People’s Pledge, which is designed in part to curb the influence on independent expenditures in elections.