Thousands of dollars in contributions from outsiders to independent expenditure committees are flooding the local City Council races making it difficult for candidates to control their messages. It takes a savvy voter to find out who’s donating. (Photo courtesy Google Images).

CITY HALL —  Outside money is flooding into the City Council race from developer-backed Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, which has raised almost $400,000 from groups across Southern California.
The independent expenditure committee, also called SMURF, posted another $215,498 between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20. It’s spent roughly half of its total take on Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, Terry O’Day and Ted Winterer, the slate of council candidates it decided to back earlier this month.
The biggest spenders all have major developments that will come before the new council, including Ocean Avenue LLC, which represents the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, and Hines, the group that plans to develop the old Papermate site into the Bergamot Transit Village.
Each gave $49,999.
Smaller contributors from across the region also chipped in for the massive warchest.
They may not all be based in Santa Monica, but perhaps have business here, said Adam Englander, a publicist for SMURF.
The organization has put its money squarely behind its candidates, spending $41,256.34 each on Shari Davis and Gleam Davis, $26,433.72 on O’Day and $9,586.67 on Winterer, according to documents filed by the group.
Winterer struck many to be an odd choice for the group for his consistent slow-growth stances and votes on the Planning Commission, causing supporters to question if SMURF was trying to discredit him by association with the developers.
The variation in amounts spent on candidates doesn’t mean much at this point, Englander said.
“The final numbers will be what the final numbers will be,” he said, noting that the campaign is “doing stuff for all of the candidates.”
SMURF’s filings show considerably more cash-on-hand than better-known independent expenditure campaigns have been able to put forward.
The Police Officers Association for a Better Community has brought $30,300 into the campaign, and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, traditionally a powerhouse, has raised $117,556.
Though large, that’s less than SMURF posted in its first filing, which was dominated by $100,000 from a number of small companies affiliated with NMS Properties, one of Santa Monica’s largest developers.
Candidates can’t control what independent expenditure committees do, and in a town like Santa Monica with a strongly anti-development element the money SMURF spends can have a negative impact.
“As an individual candidate trying to control my message, it’s hard with all this money sloshing around,” said incumbent Terry O’Day, who has been criticized for being developer-friendly, a label he does not identify with.
O’Day hasn’t been a slacker himself on fundraising. Although he hasn’t been pushing for contributions in the latest reporting cycle, he still raised $40,680 through the course of the year and has roughly $15,000 cash on hand.
Still, the SMURF slate gets challenged at every community forum, he said.
Other candidates make a point of not taking developer money specifically to avoid the stigma, like Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon.
“I think these developers are trying to steal this election,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon has raised $32,030 over the course of the race and has $18,707 left on hand.
He received backing from the established Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and the newly-minted Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), neither of which has spent serious money in the campaign so far.
SMRG seems poised to do so, however.
The group received two large contributions, $15,000 from Body Z Alive, a colon hydrotherapy company located on Second Street, and $25,000 from Playground Consulting, Inc., a computer network security firm near South Lake Tahoe.
Chris Sennings, part-owner of the company, said that he had between eight and 10 clients in Santa Monica, and that he’d heard about the troubles coming from developers.
“It’s something we’ve seen affect our town up here,” he said, “uncontrolled growth and development that makes you scratch your head.”
Sennings would not confirm his client list, although he did say that the firm does work in the hospitality industry and has publicly “liked” the Huntley Hotel on Facebook.
It’s a nice hotel, he said.
Michelle Sennings, also with Playground Consulting, also made a donation to Richard McKinnon’s campaign.
The turn to out-of-state money is a new twist on an otherwise familiar storyline in Santa Monica politics, O’Day said.
“It’s normal for business interests in the city to put a lot of money in an independent expenditure. I would say it’s not so normal to have large out-of-state interests involved,” he said.

ashley@smdp.com