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Rick Caruso loaned $10 million to his Los Angeles mayoral campaign

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the very wealthy are different from you and me: they can fund their own mayoral campaign.

Billionaire property developer Rick Caruso invested $4 million in his bid for mayor this week, bringing the total he has loaned to his campaign to $10 million. His drive to exploit his own fortune has profoundly reshaped the race since he officially entered two months ago.

While the other celebrity contestants have yet to start airing TV ads, Caruso’s posts have covered the airwaves. His campaign also bought 30-second radio spots, sent voters glossy flyers, and paid for advertising on YouTube and other social media.

“They’re buying name identification,” David Gould, a veteran campaign consultant who served as former mayor Richard Riordan’s campaign treasurer, said of the Caruso campaign.

At City Hall, there is no recent precedent for the amount of money Caruso has poured into his campaign at such an early date. The June 7 primary is still nine weeks away and the general election – which will feature the top two voters – is scheduled for November 8.

By the end of the week, Caruso’s campaign will have spent $8.95 million on advertising, according to data from analytics firm AdImpact. This total includes nearly $7 million in TV and cable ads and over $1 million in digital advertising.

For comparison, Mayor Eric Garcetti spent about $10.2 million in total on his winning bid for a citywide position in 2013. That amount not only covered the primary election, but also his campaign. second round against the municipal comptroller at the time, Wendy Greuel.

Garcetti won this race without relying on his own money, instead raising up to $2,600 from each donor.

Caruso is currently competing against four established politicians – Rep. Karen Bass, Councilor Joe Buscaino, Councilor Kevin de León and City Atty. Mike Feuer.

In a statement, Caruso spokesman Peter Ragone sought to portray the reliance on personal wealth as a positive. Having politicians accepting donations from special interests has left the city with “historic homelessness, crime and corruption,” he said.

“Rick Caruso rejects the special interests route,” Ragone said. “He will work for $1 a year and his only interest will be the safety and well-being of the citizens of LA”

Caruso’s money isn’t just a bargain for what he can buy. Her personal funds allow her to free up her schedule at a time when other candidates have to shuttle between fundraising events and spend many hours calling donors.

Under the city’s campaign finance laws, mayoral candidates can’t raise more than $1,500 from each donor during each election cycle — first the primary, then the general election.

In contrast, city laws do not limit the amount a candidate can contribute to their own campaign for mayor, prosecutor, or city comptroller, as long as that money comes from their personal funds.

In recent weeks, several candidates have sought to highlight the financial gap between Caruso and his rivals, and cast his vast wealth as a campaign liability.

Buscaino argued that in a city that “stives for fairness and fairness,” Caruso is running for Los Angeles’ top job while using “the most unfair means possible.”

“Billionaire developer Rick Caruso will outspend the entire field of candidates in his bid to buy the election – while campaigning from the comfort of his $100 million yacht in Newport Beach,” Buscaino said.

De León, the son of an immigrant housekeeper who showcased his humble roots on the campaign trail, also took aim at Caruso’s spending.

“It’s a reflection of the harsh reality that so many Angelenos face today,” he said. “The super-rich use their immense wealth to buy electricity, while everyone else just struggles to pay their bills.”

Bass declined to comment.

John Shallman, campaign consultant with City Atty. Mike Feuer, predicted that Caruso’s efforts will not succeed.

“Voters are tired of a billionaire developer parachuting in to try to save the day,” he said.

Caruso’s campaign largesse remains well below the high water mark for mayoral money set by Michael R. Bloomberg in New York. According to data from the New York City Campaign Finance Councilthe three-term mayor of New York paid more than $108 million into his campaign during the 2009 cycle, when he ran for his final term.

However, Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential bid was far less successful. He dropped out of the race without a state win after spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

California has also seen ultra-wealthy candidates attempt to make their mark, but fail.

In 2006, businessman Steve Westly invested more than $35 million of his own money in his campaign to become governor, but failed to win the Democratic Party nomination. Four years later, billionaire Meg Whitman spent $144 million of her own money on a gubernatorial campaign, only to lose to Jerry Brown by 13 points.

Los Angeles-based political consultant Mike Murphy, who supports Caruso and has worked for him before, said he doesn’t think Angelenos will be deterred by the influx of spending.

“Voters don’t really care,” he said. “I don’t think it hurts Caruso at all.”

Riordan, the Republican businessman elected mayor nearly three decades ago, invested $6 million of his own money in his 1993 campaign, but only $3 million during the primary.

Gould said he didn’t think Riordan, the two-term mayor of Los Angeles, would have won his first election without the money.

“He needed to get his name out there,” Gould said. “That’s what marked him.”

Caruso isn’t the only mayoral candidate in the race to rely heavily on his own funds. Businessman Ramit Varma loaned his campaign $1.5 million last year and ran radio ads promising to “restart LA”, according to city campaign disclosures.

Varma said he believed Caruso’s expenses revealed the injustice of the Los Angeles political system. While most of the non-mainstream candidates were shut out of the debates and struggled to garner local media attention, Caruso was able to “work his way into the conversation.”

“I think it would be better if there was a fairer way to enter the conversation,” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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