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Are PACs Buying the City Council Election?

By Mary Marlow

Political Action Committees (PACs) involved in the Santa Monica City Council race have raised almost $1 million and are quickly spending it to elect their choice of candidates as voters cast early ballots at a record rate.

By comparison, the nine Council candidates supported by the PACs had raised a total of $262,605 through October 17, according to campaign finance disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk.

Among the PACs, Santa Monica Forward -- supporting Council incumbents Gleam Davis, Ana Jara, Kristin McCowan, Terry O’Day and Ted Winterer -- had raised and spent the most money.

As of last Wednesday, Forward had spent $224,883, with business special interests accounting for over 95 percent of the money raised and spent by the PAC.

Of that, $61,520 was spent to reelect O’Day and $59,058 to reelect Jara on glossy mailers, digital ads, doorhangers, calls and texts.

That far eclipses Forward's spending on the other three incumbents, who received less than $30,000 each.

It's also more than their candidate committees or other committees supporting the incumbents has raised.

Who are the contributors to reelect all the Council incumbents through unlimited PAC donations to Santa Monica Forward?

Madison Partners, a Beverly Hills commercial real estate manager of properties in downtown Santa Monica gave $25,000 during the latest reporting period. The owner of 710 Broadway (Von’s) gave $10,000.

Likewise, Kilroy Realty (Colorado Center), Redcar Properties (Bergamot property along Michigan) and Cypress Investments (Century West Apartments) each pitched in between $9,500 and $10,000.

The owner of the Oceana Hotel gave $10,000, while the Viceroy and Le Meridien Delfina hotels each donated $5,000.

Not to be outdone, HQ Development, Mani Brothers LLC, and their allies LARGE Architecture, DCI Engineers and Promenade Gateway LP each donated $5,000.

The Santa Monica Transparency Project previously noted $12,500 from the Harding, Larmore Kutchel & Kozal land use law firm and their families.

Notice something about these contributors? They all have business interests in Santa Monica seeking return on their investments through future Council approval of their upcoming business contracts and/or developments.

In contrast, Santa Monicans for Change supporting challengers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre, Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Christine Parra with texts and mailers had spent $29,139 as of last Wednesday.

Another PAC -- Responsible Leadership for a Better Community -- jumped in to support the challengers earlier this month with a glossy mailer.

Santa Monica Transparency last tracked the PAC as Responsible Leadership for a Better Santa Monica (same FPPC ID) through the 2014 election when it supported incumbent candidate Pam O’Connor and challenger Frank Gruber.

Since 2014, Responsible Leadership for a Better Community has changed both their name and their choice of candidates, now spending money on the challengers.

We don’t know how much the PAC has raised and spent because no campaign disclosure statements have been filed in Santa Monica to date. We referred the lack of disclosure to the City Clerk for follow up.

The Santa Monica Firefighters PAC -- which supports incumbents with the exception of Jara -- has spent $34,748 on Christine Parra in comparison to less than $6,000 each for the other four incumbents.

Unite Here Local 11, the hotel workers union, had spent $12,800 on reelecting all the Council incumbents except Kristin McCowan, who is running unopposed for a two-year seat.

The union, which was the special interest group that raised the most money, also spent its cash to support many candidates in metro Los Angeles and Orange counties, not just Santa Monica.

Surprisingly, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), which has been a major player in local elections for the past 40 years, had only spent $10,104 of the $58,261 they have raised to back all the incumbents except O'Day.

Santa Monica voters will decide who represents the City best. Knowing who is behind the City Council candidates may help you decide.

Elections matter-PLEASE VOTE.

Mary Marlow heads The Santa Monica Transparency Project

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