CITY HALL ‚Äî¬† Recent campaign filings for the Santa Monica City Council race show leading candidates taking on thousands in personal debt and the entrance of a new group into the fray backed by one of Santa Monica‚Äôs biggest developers.
Only 10 of the 15 candidates running for the four open seats on the City Council turned in campaign finance documents on Friday, the most recent filing deadline.
Those documents showed Frank Gruber, a former columnist on Santa Monica politics, leading the fundraising pack with over $58,000 in his ledger. He‚Äôs already spent $35,800 of that ‚Äî largely on consultants, inclusion in voter guides, printing and salaries ‚Äî and $21,000 is a loan to himself.
The remainder of the money is derived from a varied group of donors, including many local architects, entertainment industry folks and some developers with projects currently moving through the approval process.
The decision to put personal funds into the fight is a sign of his commitment to the race, Gruber said.
“I‚Äôm willing to put my own money into it because I believe in the message, I have a lot of support and I‚Äôm not going to roll over and play dead because other people are opposing me,” Gruber said.
Gruber‚Äôs closest monetary competitor is incumbent Terry O‚ÄôDay, with $40,680 raised this year and $30,602 on hand.
O‚ÄôDay‚Äôs position near the head of the pack comes in spite of the fact that his campaign lost thousands when a former treasurer, Kinde Durkee, ransacked his and other campaigns across the state of California to pay her personal bills.
His support comes from a variety of sources, although developers, local land use attorneys and hotel interests have pumped thousands of dollars into his campaign.
Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer and education advocate Shari Davis round out the top four, with $34,739 and $33,773, respectively.
Neither candidate put large sums of their own money into their campaigns ‚Äî Winterer has one $500 contribution ‚Äî and their sources largely come from community groups and individuals.
Winterer in particular has run campaigns in the past eschewing the support of developers, a position in line with his responsible-growth platform, while Shari Davis enjoys major support amongst the school community given her long history working with Community for Excellent Public Schools and Parent Teacher Associations.
Incumbent Gleam Davis is the last candidate to break $20,000 with $28,109 raised thus far in the race.
Many of her contributors mirror O‚ÄôDay‚Äôs, including donations from various members of the Sassounian family ‚Äî connected with the Huntley Hotel ‚Äî and developers with projects in process including Steve Henry of the project at Fourth Street and Broadway, the president of NMS Properties and Bradley Cox of Trammel Crow, which is seeking to redevelop the former Grammy Building site on Pico Boulevard.
Other names also spanned several contribution lists, including brand name attorneys from Harding Larmore Kutcher and Kozal, a prominent land use law firm in Santa Monica.
Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, former City Councilmember Tony Vazquez and former journalist John Smith raised $15,355, $11,142 and $9,081, respectively, with anywhere between one-third and 90 percent of those funds coming from personal loans.
The remaining two candidates, Steve Duron and Robert Seldon, raised $2,605 and $1,050 over the course of the race.
Only Gruber‚Äôs numbers begin to stack up to the $40,000 and $73,500 that incumbents Gleam Davis and O‚ÄôDay raised during their last successful races in 2010.
That may be, in part, because of the vast institutional support that has rallied behind O‚ÄôDay, Gleam Davis, Shari Davis and Ted Winterer in particular.
Those four are backed by powerhouses of Santa Monica politics including the Police Officers‚Äô Association and the Santa Monica Firefighters Local 1109, and all but Shari Davis also enjoy support from Santa Monicans for Renters‚Äô Rights (SMRR), the biggest political organization in the city.
Well-funded group enters race
One recent addition may not be so welcome.
A new organization called Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, or SMURF, has sent paid staff in blue polo shirts door-to-door in Santa Monica neighborhoods bearing a pamphlet trumpeting the four council candidates.
According to its filings, SMURF has $175,000 to spend, with $100,000 coming from NMS Properties, a major developer in Santa Monica with at least six projects listed on the Planning Commission caselist.
The remaining $75,000 come from Chicago-based Century West Partners, LLC., Ideal Properties, LLC. and Roberts Business Park.
That dwarfs the $79,448.38 SMRR has on hand to throw behind its candidates for the City Council, Board of Education and Rent Control Board.
Although it appears to be dominated by NMS Properties, more individuals and entities will be putting money behind the effort by the next filing deadline, said Adam Englander, a spokesperson for SMURF.
The developer-backed group took its lead from the POA, firefighters and CEPS in choosing the candidates to support, Englander said.
“We‚Äôre hoping the Santa Monica City Council stays on the right path and continues to make the right decisions,” Englander said. “We think these four candidates are the best for Santa Monica.”
That came as a shock to the candidates themselves. Each expressed uncertainty about the group because they cannot control the content or interact with those producing it.
“We are concerned about the impact of newly-formed PAC and Independent Expenditure Committees that use names suggesting they have broad local membership,” said O‚ÄôDay, Shari Davis and Gleam Davis in a release.
“Given the ability of some PACs and Independent Expenditures to reach a scale that dwarfs individual candidates own campaigns and misrepresents them, these ‚Äòpop-up‚Äô groups that claim to be community-based but don‚Äôt have community credentials can have a deleterious impact on our elections and we denounce them,” the statement continued.
Developers in particular cause some residents heartburn, like NMS Properties, which has developed huge amounts of units in Santa Monica, and Roberts Center, which is a large development near two others on the east side of town.
“We are worried about people (having a) negative reaction even if it‚Äôs a positive message,” said Shari Davis.
She also feared that the organization‚Äôs name and funders would confuse voters and possibly detract from the value of the other endorsements that share the same slate.
Others see more behind the glossy leaflet than meets the eye.
They worry that it is meant to target Winterer and detract from his slow-growth record.
“This is a cynical attempt to discredit Ted by making it appear that he‚Äôs working with developers and welcomes their support when it‚Äôs not true at all,” said Mary Marlow, with the Ocean Park Association and the Santa Monica Transparency Project.
It wouldn‚Äôt be the first time Winterer had been targeted by a pop-up group.
In 2010, he was left off of a mailer by a group calling itself Santa Monicans for Quality Government, a move which some credit for his very narrow loss.
For his part, Winterer is distancing himself from the organization.
“Many are puzzled why a developer-funded committee would back a candidate such as myself with a record of advocacy for responsible growth,” Winterer said. “I cannot answer that question. However, my positions on all issues including development are well-known and I stand by those positions now and in the future.”