Independent Spending on Race for Mayor Sets L.A. Record

By Jeffrey L. Rabin and Daniel Hernandez
Times Staff Writers

May 5, 2005

The record for independent spending in a Los Angeles mayor's race was shattered Wednesday when the state teachers union said it would spend $500,000 on TV ads to help elect Antonio Villaraigosa, and other unions indicated they would spend hundreds of thousands more to help incumbent James K. Hahn.

The financial commitment by the state teachers union pushed the amount of independent expenditures in the mayor's race to more than $2.3 million, brushing past the previous record, $1.5 million spent on behalf of the two men in their 2001 runoff. The independent spending is on top of the millions of dollars being raised and spent by Villaraigosa and Hahn for their campaigns.

The teachers union and other pro-Villaraigosa organizations appeared to be trying to blunt a last flurry of advertising by Hahn before the May 17 runoff much as earlier spending by pro-Hahn groups was meant to bolster the mayor's lagging fundraising.

By law, spending by outside groups cannot be coordinated with the candidates or their campaigns.

With the most recent infusion, independent spending for Villaraigosa has now reached $1.2 million. Independent expenditures for Hahn passed $1.1 million Wednesday.

The California Teachers Assn.'s pledge is in itself a record independent expenditure for an L.A. mayor's race.

A CTA official said the group decided to pledge the money because of its familiarity with the Los Angeles city councilman. A former Assembly speaker and former United Teachers Los Angeles organizer, he is a favorite of teachers union leaders.

"To have someone who is a real advocate for every student and every teacher in the state as mayor of the largest city ... is a tremendous asset," said Bob Cherry, a CTA spokesman.

Hahn has received a major boost from unions since the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor endorsed his reelection. The largest source of independent spending on his side $310,866 has come from the Service Employees International Union, Local 434B, which represents home-care workers. The president of that local is Tyrone Freeman, a Hahn appointee to the city Fire Commission. The union that represents Los Angeles firefighters has reported that it plans to spend $270,000 to support Hahn's reelection.

Yet in the last three days, Villaraigosa has overtaken Hahn in independent spending as the CTA and United Teachers Los Angeles have promised $685,000 for television and radio ads. With their previous commitments, the two teachers unions have now pledged a total of $800,395 to support Villaraigosa. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union Local 18, which represents 8,000 employees at the city Department of Water and Power, said Monday that it would spend $200,000 on radio ads for Villaraigosa. The local has also spent $7,583 on T-shirts and banners supporting Villaraigosa.

The amount of independent spending outside the city's system of partial public financing of election campaigns has been growing rapidly in recent elections, raising concerns among campaign finance watchdogs. The city has a $1,000 contribution limit on donations to candidates, but the independent donations are unlimited.

"Obviously, it undercuts the contribution limits to a great degree," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

In their public appearances Wednesday, Hahn and Villaraigosa sparred over alleged improprieties in their fundraising, echoing the scathing television ads that each has aired to spark voter doubts about the other's integrity.

After touting his plan to cut the cost of prescription drugs at Good Samaritan Hospital near MacArthur Park, Villaraigosa fended off questions from reporters about campaign donations from Florida that Hahn has made the central focus of his first ad.

"I want to talk about my vision for Los Angeles; I don't want to respond every single day to Jim Hahn," Villaraigosa said.

He said there was nothing "questionable," as a reporter had suggested, about the $47,000 in Florida donations that Villaraigosa pledged last week to return.

"I gave it back because I wanted to absolutely establish that there was no issue there," he said. "It was not questionable. I decided I'm going to separate myself from Jim Hahn, accept responsibility. If someone has a question, or an issue, then so be it."

Villaraigosa vowed to return the money to employees of two Florida companies and their family members after the news media reported that some of them seemed confused about the donations or had trouble explaining them and that the companies could be interested in concession business at Los Angeles International Airport.

Earlier, Villaraigosa stepped up his appeals to black voters as he gained the endorsement of the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American newspaper, at its South Los Angeles headquarters.

"I'd like to remind you, the first 44 settlers that founded Los Angeles, they may have been Mexican settlers, but let me share something with you: They were of African heritage," Villaraigosa said. "They were mulatto. They were mestizo. We need to talk about that."

As for Hahn, he continued to question Villaraigosa's statement that he did not discuss potential airport business at a dinner with Sean Anderson, the president of one of the Florida companies.

"For him to say he never discussed the airport, and never discussed concessions, if that's the story he's saying, you know, let him answer that to [the] district attorney," said Hahn, referring to a preliminary inquiry into the donations by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.

Speaking at a Valley Glen campaign stop, Hahn faced questions on fundraising involving his last campaign. He reiterated his contention that he cannot return money that was raised for him by Mark Abrams, a Westside developer who was fined $270,000 by the city Ethics Commission for laundering political donations, most of them to Hahn's 2001 campaign.

Villaraigosa has called on Hahn to return the money, but the mayor said that was impossible because the campaign accounts were closed.

"Those matters were investigated fully," Hahn said. "There was no one in my campaign, or anyone connected to my campaign, who was found to have done anything wrong."

The main focus of Hahn's news conference was crime. A group of crime victims praised the mayor's public safety record, and Hahn portrayed Villaraigosa as beholden to the American Civil Liberties Union and too deferential to criminals' rights.

"Time and time again, Mr. Villaraigosa and I find ourselves on opposite sides," Hahn said.

"Whether it's victims' rights, whether it's tougher laws against gang members, whether it's gang injunctions, whether it's our fight to put more police on the streets of Los Angeles, there's a clear difference between us," Hahn said.

Villaraigosa opposed gang injunctions when he was a leader of the ACLU's Southern California chapter, but supports them now.

Like Hahn, Villaraigosa has pledged to add officers to the city police force. Villaraigosa also has criticized the mayor for falling short of his pledge in 2001 to expand the police force by 1,000 officers.

Times staff writers Richard Fausset and Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.
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