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SMRR's Campaign Donations Lag Compared to Last Election

By Jorge Casuso and Olin Ericksen
Staff Writers

August 25 -- With a dozen political rivals targeting four seats on the City Council, Santa Monica's powerful tenants group has fallen short of the cash they amassed by this time last election cycle.

Campaign disclosure statements filed by Santa Monica for Renters' Rights (SMRR) show the group had $63,869 in its campaign war chest as of June 30, or nearly $15,000 less than the $78,099 the group had amassed by the same time two years ago.

But leaders of the group, which has dominated the political landscape for 19 of the last 26 years, said they are not worried and note that the dip in contributions merely reflects fewer political canvassers on the street.

“It isn’t really the amount of contributions, it’s just the level of operations,” said SMRR Co-chair Dennis Zane. “It’s the number of doors knocked on. Last time, we had a somewhat more consistent canvassing operation. I’m sure it will pick up.”

Indeed, the level of contributions reaped by SMRR depends on the amount the group spends soliciting the money.

This year, SMRR spent $47,507 to bring in $82,904 during the first six months of the year. That compares with the $61,543 the group spent to collect $96,950 two years ago. SMRR also started with less money in its coffers this year -- $28,472 compared with $42,692 in 2002.

The tenants group -- whose phone banks and field operations give it a formidable political operation -- expects to spend less money this year getting out the vote and more on getting out its message.

“It’s such a high turnout election, we don’t have to spend as much on get-out-the-vote-related efforts,” Zane said. “We can focus more in message related stuff.”

This year SMRR will likely face the best-funded opposition in years. For the first time, the Chamber of Commerce, which has formed an issues committee, is pumping money into an opposing slate.

It has also launched a web site attacking the SMRR council majority on its lenient policies towards the homeless, “poor planning for traffic and parking, and a suffocating bureaucracy.”

In addition to the chamber, a slate calling itself the "Team for Change" -- composed of local political columnist Bill Bauer, Pico neighborhood activist Kathryn Morea and former council candidate David Cole -- is vying for business dollars.

The slate recently launched a web site attacking SMRR’s record on homelessness, property rights, traffic, development and a host of other issues. It is also the first local political group to solicit money via the internet.

SMRR also faces the wild card candidacy of Bobby Shriver -- a member of the Kennedy family and brother-in-law of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who jumped into the race despite strong lobbying by SMRR leaders to dissuade him from running.

SMRR also is grappling with internal divisions. Incumbent Councilman Michael Feinstein failed to win the group’s endorsement at its convention August 1, and his independent candidacy could take votes away from members of the SMRR slate.

The group’s slate includes two City council incumbents -- Mayor Richard Bloom and Council member Ken Genser -- as well as two newcomers making their first council run, Maria Loya and Patricia Hoffman.

Both Hoffman, a former school district board president, and Loya, a Pico Neighborhood Association officer, picked up the most votes at SMRR's convention earlier this month, indicating that an influx of new members recruited by political hopefuls helped forge the slate.

Although as many as 200 new members were signed up before the May 1 deadline in an effort to influence the group’s slate, SMRR leaders say they welcome the newcomers and disagree with those who contend the group was “taken over.”

“I think it’s a healthy democracy,” said Michael Tarbet, a SMRR organizer. “I don’t see it as a takeover, but as new energy.”

Tarbet -- who was paid $7,000 in campaign consulting fees in the first six months of this year -- acknowledges the SMRR is facing a tougher challenge than usual.

“It used to be that the bankers and the realtors and the chamber of commerce ran this town,” he said. “And they’ve been trying to come back, and they’re putting on a good show this time.

“I think there’s a tougher race than two years ago,” Tarbet said. “All we can do is keep plugging. I think tenants and homeowners, if they look at the record, see that SMRR is doing good for the community. Life is more secure and a little bit better than it was.”

Zane is confident SMRR can take on a well-funded opposition.

“We’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ll give them a run for their money.”
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