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Will Money Matter in the Los Angeles Mayoral Race?

The five top tier candidates running for L.A. Mayor (from left:) Emanuel Pleitez, Eric Garcetti, Kevin James, Jan Perry, and Wendy Greuel.
The five top tier candidates running for L.A. Mayor (from left:) Emanuel Pleitez, Eric Garcetti, Kevin James, Jan Perry, and Wendy Greuel.

Depending on who you believe, there are five top tier candidates vying to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Two are women. One of those women is African American. Four are Democrats; one is a Republican.

Running for the highest elected office in the City of Angels is not an inexpensive undertaking. The question is how much fundraising and spending will matter. Certainly money helps candidates get their message out to the voters. This is why the Supreme Court has long equated money with speech.

But beyond the opportunity to reach the voters, does spending beyond a certain point sway the voters? There may, however, be a tipping point, or a saturation level at which more increased spending on political advertisements does not equal an increase in support. In addition, it may matter whether a candidate is spending her own funds, or the funds of contributors. In other words, candidates who have raised money from others may have a base of support, even if that base is only comprised of people who can and want to give money to political candidates.

A second question relates to how much weight the voters give to outside spending. Spending by so-called independent groups can fill a candidate's fundraising gap. But do the voters listen to political communications by candidates more than they do to communications by outside groups? Or do voters not differentiate?

Thus far in the current mayor race those two questions are at play. Republican Kevin James, who has never held public office, spent more than any other mayor candidate in the fourth quarter of 2012. However, he raised much, much less than the top tier candidates. James raised slightly more than $42,000. City Controller Wendy Greuel raised $672,230, and City Councilman Eric Garcetti raised $727,503 during that period.

James does have the support of an independent committee, which thanks to recent court decisions can raise and spend unlimited sums. This spending could play a key role in James' bid for mayor, even though legally he is not allowed to direct that outside spending. The group may run negative advertisements against the other contenders.

Ultimately the voters will determine how much weight to give the many advertisements and political communications they will see between now and the primary election in March and the general election in May.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.