CITY HALL — City Council candidates have spent close to $400,000 on their campaigns but those dollars pale in comparison to what’s been spent by outside groups.
Supporters of Measure D, which would require a public vote on any significant changes to the Santa Monica Airport, have spent more than $800,000 alone. Hundreds of thousands of dollars more have come in from other groups that support or oppose candidates or measures.
These outside boosters don’t have to adhere to the same campaign finance rules placed on candidates, who can only accept contributions of $325 or less. The political action committees (PACs) can’t collude with the candidates they’re supporting.
The PAC supporting Measure D is largely financed by aviation groups, like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has spent $279,049 on the campaign to date. AOPA is based in Maryland. The National Business Aviation Association – based in Washington, D.C. – has spent $225,000 on the campaign.
Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on mailers and robocalls in support of the measure in the last two weeks. Tens of thousands of dollars were also spent with the law firm Reed & Davidson. Flora Yin, who filed the initial Measure D ballot initiative and serves as the treasurer on the pro-Measure D campaign, is a partner at Reed & Davidson.
A group formed to oppose the measure and support Measure LC, which would retain some of council’s control over the land, has raised $108,000 and spent $87,000 to date. Most of the contributions are from Santa Monica residents. Much of the cash has been spent on mailers. Some was spent to support a street fair, which raised more than $1,000 in support of the measure.
Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the city’s largest political party, has raised $129,505 to be spent on its candidates and causes. The Huntley Hotel, which has actively opposed the expansion of its neighbor, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, contributed $10,000 last week.
Attorney Michael Soloff contributed $10,000 earlier this month. He is married to Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich, who is being supported by SMRR – along with incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy – in her race for council. No council candidates were selected by the SMRR membership this year. Six of the seven SMRR Steering Committee members who did not recuse themselves voted to back Himmelrich late last month.
Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane did not vote, because he is Himmelrich’s campaign manager, but he did lobby members of the committee on her behalf.
Kennedy, who was previously SMRR’s only paid employee, gave $500.
At the time of their selection by the SMRR Steering Committee, both Himmelrich and Kennedy employed Roger Thornton as their treasurer. Thornton, who is still the SMRR treasurer but no longer represents Himmelrich and Kennedy, was an unrecused Steering Committee member and voted to support them.
Santa Monica College Board of Trustee incumbent Andrew Walzer was also given support from the SMRR Steering Committee and he contributed $1,000 to SMRR earlier this month. Incumbent Louise Jaffe, who was selected by the committee, contributed $2,000 to SMRR’s PAC from her campaign.
Board of Education incumbent Ralph Mechur, who was selected by the membership, gave $400.
SMRR endorsements go a long way. Six of the seven current council members and six of the seven Ed Board members were backed by SMRR during their campaigns.
Santa Monica Democratic Club
Since June, almost every contribution to the Santa Monica Democratic Club has come from a candidate or their relative. In September, after Himmelrich and McKeown were endorsed, Soloff gave $10,000 to the club.
The Dems have spent $23,400 in support of candidates this year.
Santa Monica Coalition For a Livable City (SMCLC) has raised $35,735 in support of its favored candidates – McKeown, Himmelrich, and Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon – and in opposition of Mayor Pam O’Connor.
It’s hard to trace the origins of the organization’s largest contribution of $12,500 because it comes from SMCLC’s own nonprofit.
SMCLC Steering Committee member Diana Gordon told the Daily Press that the money comes “a couple dozen people” who had previously contributed cash to cover legal fees of the organization’s lawsuit challenging the development agreement of the controversial Hines project. These contributors were asked, according to Gordon, if they’d be willing to use the leftover cash to fund SMCLC’s PAC. They all agreed, she said.
The Daily Press asked Gordon, given that it was only a couple dozen contributors, why they didn’t itemize the contributions individually for the sake of transparency.
Gordon did not respond to the question, noting only that SMCLC does not accept money from any hotel or developer. At this moment, given the lack of specificity in the campaign disclosure statement, the Daily Press can’t independently verify if that’s true.
When Residocracy launched a referendum earlier this year successfully toppling the controversial Hines development agreement it was expected that they would be highly influential in the upcoming election. The group hosted a well-attended candidates’ forum and ultimately – through an online membership vote – endorsed Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock, McKeown, and Himmelrich.
But City Hall has not yet posted any campaign disclosure reports from the new group on the block.
The Daily Press reached out to the City Clerk to see if the statements have been filed but did not hear back by press time.
After the endorsements, the group’s founder Armen Melkonians told the Daily Press that Residocracy would be accepting campaign contributions, which would be used to support its candidates.
Realtor Kate Bransfield, a member of the Residocracy Advisory Board, has run numerous advertisements in the Daily Press this month with a side-bar that promotes the Residocracy slate. Prior to that, throughout September, her ads promoted Residocracy more generally. According to a post Bransfield made on Facebook, she’s also printed flyers to promote the Residocracy slate.
Numerous campaign finance disclosure deadlines have come and gone since the first Residocracy ads started showing up.
The Daily Press reached out to both Bransfield and Melkonians but did not hear back by press time.
Bransfield, it should be noted in the interested of full disclosure, is one of the Daily Press’ biggest advertisers.
Money is coming in for a developer-backed PAC headed by Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day.
Responsible Leadership for a Better Santa Monica has raised $130,000 in support of former Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber and Mayor Pam O’Connor.
On Oct. 5, The Edward Thomas Management Company, which owns Shutters on the Beach Hotel and Hotel Casa del Mar, gave $25,000 to the group. On Oct. 21 they gave $15,000 more. In 2012, City Council approved the sale of the City Hall-owned vacant beach lot at 1920 Ocean Way to the Edward Thomas Management Company for $13 million.
Ocean Avenue LCC, which seeks to rebuild the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, replacing the current 10-story edifice with – according to the most recently released designs – a 21-story tower, 280 hotel rooms, 120 luxury condominiums, and 40 affordable housing units, gave another $25,000 to O’Day’s campaign.
Century West Partners, which was approved to move forward with a housing project last year, gave $25,000 last week.
Kilroy Reality, which owns four office buildings in Santa Monica, did the same.
Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) has brought in nearly $70,000 on behalf of its candidates. While the group supports Board of Education candidates Mechur (whose given $500 to the group), incumbent Laurie Lieberman (whose given $5,000), SMRR co-Chair Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein (whose given $1,000), and Malibu schools advocate Craig Foster (whose given $5,000), they also endorsed council candidates Gruber and O’Connor. CEPS supports incumbents in the race for Santa Monica College Board of Trustees (Walzer contributed $5,000).
The largest contributor is Daniel Greenberg ($25,000), president Electro Rent Corporation, which rents and leases equipment like oscilloscopes, signal generators, and world-pattern-arbitrary generators, according to the company website.
Edward Thomas gave $5,000 and Ocean Ave, LLC gave $2,500.
CEPS has spent $26,000 thus far mostly on mailers and newspaper ads.
The Santa Monica Police Officer Association for a Better Community has spent $65,400 on behalf of its candidates O’Connor, Gruber, and McKeown. Dozens of police officers have contributed $150 to the pot to date.
Unite Here Local 11, a hospitality workers union, spent $15,400 in support of its candidates Gruber and McKeown this month.
The Coalition of Santa Monica City Employees PAC has spent $16,500 in support of McKeown, O’Connor, and former Mayor Michael Feinstein.
Measures H and HH
The California Association of Realtors is spending big money in opposition to measures H and HH, which, if passed, would raise taxes on the sale of homes over a million dollars and, in theory, set the money aside to fund affordable housing.
They’ve dropped $159,000 into a group opposing the measure. So far, only $46,000 has been spent, with most of that going to mailers.
Meanwhile supporters of H and HH have raised $87,000 and spent $21,828.
The Edward Thomas Company, Century West Partners, NMS Properties, the Georgian Hotel, Felcor (which seeks to redevelop the Wyndham Hotel), and attorney Dale Goldsmith each gave $5,000 to the pro-H group this month.