Power in Los Angeles isn't what it used to be. Once, men like Harry and Norman Chandler, former publishers of the L.A. Times and economic oligarchs, wielded enormous political and economic influence across the entire basin. Today, power is diffuse, spread out, parceled out to different players and interest groups- unions, developers and neighborhood groups- who in turn form a perpetually shifting set of alliances. It's the reason why it's so hard to get anything done in L.A.- and perhaps why the city's political outlook seems so uncertain.
On the day after Christmas 1952, Southern California Republican Rep. Norris Poulson received a letter from Norman Chandler, then-publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
"Dear Norrie," the letter began. It went on to explain that Chandler, Asa Call (the president of Pacific Mutual Insurance) and a collection of powerful downtown businessmen had been talking, and they wanted him to run for mayor. They promised to "generously" bankroll the campaign and lobby for a salary bump that would include, as a perk, a Cadillac and chauffer for Poulson to "strut around in."
And so they did. Poulson won the election and served as little more than a puppet of a group that later became known as the Committee of 25, which, depending on your historical interpretation, was either an enormously powerful clique of the city's business elite or a shadow government running the city.
Read more at USC News 21.
With independent expenditures totaling well over $3 million, the Los Angeles Unified school board election has become a battle of special interests — of unions, charter schools, and surprisingly, stadium operators — and the candidate winning the greatest share of that pie is Luis Sanchez in District 5.
At first glance, the race seems to be a battle of the unions. Independent expenditures — both supporting and opposing Sanchez — have totaled about $955,000. More than a third of that money has come from the Service Employees International Union, which raised nearly $335,000 in support of Sanchez. And United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which sponsors candidate Bennett Kayser, has spent a little more than $322,000 opposing him.
But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).
So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
"The Committee To Support Measures O and P" has so far received $11,500 in contributions and spent $8,000 of that on slate mailers, according to campaign disclosure statements.
One of the mailer groups that the committee paid for an advertising spot is "Californians Vote Green," which would seem to make sense for a measure targeting the oil industry. But the other, Newport Beach slate mailer "Continuing The Republican Revolution," not so much.
If approved on Tuesday, Measure H could go a long way toward preventing "pay-to-play" politics in Los Angeles, at least according to its supporters.
Specifically, the measure would prohibit bidders on city contracts worth $100,000 or more from contributing to city political campaigns.
"Measure H is one incremental step for getting money out of politics," said Jessica Levinson, director of political reform at the Center for Governmental Studies. "Measure H targets that group whose spending is most likely to give rise to actual or apparent corruption — city contractors."
After all, who would support the same industry that brought us the BP oil spill? Not just the wealthy oil companies, it turns out, but also a surprising coalition of small minority organizations.
In a small two-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys with brown shag carpeting and a cottage cheese ceiling, a French kid named Alexis sits at a desk with headphones, staring at his MacBook through black-frame glasses. As Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik plays from a boom box, Alexis' computer dials phone numbers until someone picks up. He speaks with a noticeable but not thick French accent, reading from a script:
"Hello, Maria? My name is Alex, I'm a volunteer calling about the important city council election on March 8th. Have you already voted?"
A pause, and some back-and-forth about mail-in-ballots.
"I would like to know who you are going to vote for for city council. Oh. Well, I'm supporting Rich Goodman. He's a good man for city council. He just received the L.A. Times endorsement two days ago. He's a Democrat with strong ethics and moral integrity, believes that our taxes should go to our neighborhoods and to improve our streets and sidewalks."
This scene, in this little apartment, this is how you run for Los Angeles City Council on less than $4,000. You get friends (including your dad) and perhaps a few random strangers to volunteer, making phone calls and knocking on doors.
As we reported last week, independent expenditures in the four Board of Education races are approaching $1 million. The races are largely a pitched battle between the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles and a group called the Coalition for School Reform.
In three out of four races, the Coalition has heavily outspent the UTLA (see chart after the jump). As of the last filing deadline in January, they'd raised more than $1 million and still had more than $800,000 left. With the UTLA withdrawing support from two of their candidates earlier in the month the Coalition appears to be cruising towards an unexpectedly easy victory.
But where did all that money come from?
Rich people, mostly.
The film production industry in Los Angeles took a beating during the recent recession, not helped by the three-month writers' strike that started in late 2007 and cost the industry an estimated $2.1 billion.
As the film industry looks to regain some of that lost footing here in California, we could see an increase in lobbying efforts from the studios. The goal? Persuade state and local agencies to increase subsidies and tax breaks to filmmakers to keep them from straying to states that offer juicier handouts.
Here's a quick peek at the current landscape for film incentives.
The Los Angeles City Council races aren't the only game to watch in the March 8 citywide elections. In fact, they aren't even attracting the biggest bets.
Independent expenditures in the Board of Education races are about to top $1 million, compared with just over half a million raised in the fight for a city council seat.
So far more than $500,000 in independent money has been spent on Los Angeles City Council races, the City Ethics Commission announced Wednesday.
The vast majority of those independent expenditures — money spent by outside groups on radio, TV, and print ads to support or oppose candidates — is being funneled into the 8th District race between incumbent Bernard Parks and union-backed Forescee Hogan-Rowles.
In 2007 the 8th District race received less than $2000 in outside money, all of which went to support Parks. With almost three weeks still to go, the same district has already pulled in more than $446,000 — more than a 22,000 percent increase.
No one was really expecting Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks to have much trouble defeating Forescee Hogan-Rowles in the upcoming city election. But that was before big labor got involved with the race for Council District 8.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO has spent more than $80,000 in support of Hogan-Rowles, and the IBEW—the electrical workers union—more than $125,000. Through an innocuously named group, Working Californians to Support Forescee Hogan-Rowles, the IBEW is prepared to spend almost a quarter million more on the race. And Hogan-Rowles has drawn further endorsements from the SEIU local 721, the firefighter's union and the policemen's union, which just put in its opening ante on Friday: $47,550 for Hogan-Rowles and $54,000 for radio ads attacking Parks.
So why do the unions have it in for Bernard Parks?
The proposed tax made the ballot anyway, however, thanks to support from the rest of the City Council. If passed by voters in March, the tax, called Measure O, would levy $1.44 on every barrel of oil extracted within city limits.
Contrary to Hahn's prediction, it has actually been small oil companies, not the major corporations, that have banded together to fight the measure.