By Jason Islas
Editorial note: A previous version of this article misidentified the SMRR slate of City Council candidates. This article has been updated to reflect the correct candidate slate. The Lookout regrets this error.
October 16, 2012 -- Political Action Committees (PACs) are not new to Santa Monica during election season, but as the November 6 elections draw nearer, candidates have begun to protest the newcomers on the political scene.
The developer-backed Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF) is the City's newest -- and wealthiest -- political player and the group, which has endorsed four candidates in the race for City Council, has raised some concern about the influence of independent expenditure committees on the City's elections.
“Given the ability of some PACs and Independent Expenditures to reach a scale that dwarfs individual candidates own campaigns and misrepresents them, these "pop-up" groups that claim to be community-based but don't have community credentials can have a deleterious impact on our elections and we denounce them," incumbent Terry O'Day wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
O'Day is one of the four candidates who appears on a flyer put out by SMURF, who has spent over $75,000 of the $175,000 it has raised on mailers, polling and consultation since it was formed on September 24.
Incumbent Gleam Davis, Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer and education activist Shari Davis also appear on the flyer.
Both Gleam Davis and Shari Davis signed O'Day's statement.
This is nothing new in Santa Monica, said Council member Bob Holbrook.
In 2006, Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities (SMSP), an independent expenditure committee set up by Edward Thomas Management Company raised $400,000 to support O'Day and Holbrook.
At the time, O'Day was happy to have their endorsement.
SMSP has “every right to promote who they want and I'm proud they chose to support me," O’Day said in 2006.
But O'Day said since then, he's gotten a better understanding of how politics in the city work.
“Back then, I was a newcomer and I was happy to receive support from anyone in the community who wanted to back my candidacy,” he said. “Today I have more experience with the way elections in this city are run, and voters need to be clear as to who is speaking when they receive announcements of endorsements.”
In 2006, SMSP launched an unprecedented television campaign against Council member Kevin McKeown, leading to community backlash.
“The persistence of these groups is a failing of Santa Monica politics,” said council candidate Frank Gruber. “The amount of money they can raise dwarfs the amount candidates can raise to get their own messages out.”
The way independent expenditure committees are structured, they are legally prohibited from coordinating with the candidates.
“They don't ask, they don't interview,” said Holbrook. “You don't know who's going to be in and who's going to be out.”
That's part of what concerns O'Day.
“I do think that business interests have a legitimate place and ability to speak,” O'Day said. “The challenge is when it's not clear who it is and when the volume of the money is so big it overwhelms an individual candidate's ability to control a message about themselves.”
The main powers behind SMURF are NMS Properties, Inc., Century West Partners, LLC., Ideal Properties, LLC. and Robert's Business Park.
“There are many legitimate membership groups that have a history of activism and political engagement in Santa Monica during both on- and off-election cycles,” O'Day wrote in his e-mail. “They play a valuable role in educating voters.”
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights -- the city's most influential political organization -- forms an IEC to campaign for its endorsed candidates.
The members of the campaign committee are prohibited from talking to the endorsed candidates.
This year, SMRR has raised $100,000 to support their slate: O'Day, Gleam Davis, Winterer, and former Council member Tony Vazquez.
The Santa Monica Police Officers' Association also spends money on behalf of the candidates they endorse.
“If one of these PACs doesn't help you, I don't know how you can mount a viable campaign,” said Holbrook, who estimated that you have to spend at least $75,000 to win.
That is, unless you can finance your own campaign, like Council member Bobby Shriver, who spent $400,000 on his 2004 bid.