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Powerful Santa Monica Tenants Group Gets Fundraising Boost from its Candidates

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By Daniel Larios
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October 13, 2014 – This year, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) has received $110,000 in campaign contributions, its highest total in ten years, thanks to donations from candidates it endorsed and members of their families.

What put the group over the top was a $10,000 donation made on Thursday by Housing Commissioner Michael Soloff, the husband of Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Sue Himmelrich, according to campaign finance reports.

Himmelrich, who won the backing from the powerful tenants group through its Steering committee last month, also contributed $1,000 to the organization on July 17, before being considered for SMRR’s endorsement.

In addition, the campaign committee of school board candidate and SMRR co-chair Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein donated $1,000 to the organization.

Tahvildaran-Jesswein, who won SMRR’s endorsement at its August convention, has taken a leave of absence from his leadership role in the group.

During the January 1 to June 30 campaign filing period this year, donations were made by the campaign committees of two other SMRR endorsees, Ben Allen and Sheila Kuehl, who were backed by the group for the June primary at its March meeting.

“Ben Allen for Senate” and “Kuehl for Supervisor” each donated $3,000 to the organization after being endorsed, according to campaign finance reports.

The average donation to SMRR is about $100.
 
Between 2000 and 2014, SMRR-endorsed candidates donated a total of $1,250, with School Board candidate Laurie Lieberman giving $1,000 to the group in 2010, and Kuehl’s committee for her State Senate reelection bid donating $250 in 2004.

That compares with $18,000 donated in this year alone.

With a month left before the election, SMRR has raised a total $109,842.75 since January, the highest amount raised in an election year since 2004, when the group raised $118,144.

“I’m so glad that we’re ahead this year,” SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman told the Lookout. “It means that we can do more to support our candidates, like maybe putting out more literature.”

During the July 1 to September 30 filing period, SMRR received $26,170 in donations from members, bringing its calendar year total to $99,842.75.

Other notable donations include a $5,000 contribution from the estate of the late Betty S. Mueller, a former Housing Commissioner, Rent Control Board member and 30-year SMRR member who died in March.
 
Since 2004, SMRR has surpassed the $100,000 mark by this time every election year, according to campaign finance disclosures statements.

In addition to the $118,144 raised in 2004, SMRR raised $103,107 in 2006; $105,636 in 2008, and $105,420 in 2010.

During election years, SMRR provides a well-funded campaign along with a sophisticated get-out-the-vote operation for all of its endorsees.

SMRR’s endorsement is one of the most powerful in the city. In the past 10 years, 77 percent of the City Council endorsees and 80 percent of the Santa Monica-Malibu school board picks were elected.

Also during that period, only one non-SMRR endorsee has won a seat on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees. The same goes for the Rent Control Board.

For Santa Monica City Council, SMRR is backing a slow-growth slate consisting of Himmelrich, incumbent councilmember Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy, an outcome all three candidates were hoping for in the race for three open council seats.

For School Board, SMRR endorsed Tahvildaran-Jesswein and incumbents Lieberman, Ralph Mechur and Oscar de la Torre for the four open seats.

The group backed incumbents Nancy Greenstein, Louise Jaffe, Barry Snell and Andrew Walzer in the race for four open seats on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.

For Rent Control Board, SMRR endorsed the three unopposed candidates Nicole Phillis, Steve Duron and Todd Flora for the three open seats.


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