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Landlord Lobbyists Pour Nearly $2 Million into LA County Political Ads

The California Apartment Association is desperate to keep progressive candidates out of office.

It’s election season. And you may have noticed a glut of fear mongering ads in your mailbox recently. If you read the fine print, you’ll know a lot of these are paid for by either Rick Caruso or the real estate group called the California Apartment Association (CAA), which has launched a big independent expenditure. 

Sound bad? It is!

The CAA is shelling out a lot of cash for media buys to oppose progressive candidates like Eunisses Hernandez, Hugo Soto-Martinez, and (well, maybe less progressive) Katy Young Yaroslavsky, and on the other hand, to support candidates already purchased by the real estate lobby like Gil Cedillo, Mitch O’Farrell, Monica Rodriguez, Tim McOsker, and Sam Yebri — the latter of whom is incredibly conservative on criminalizing homelessness and policing. 

The CAA represents the interests of apartment owners across the state and claims to be “the nation’s largest statewide organization representing the rental housing industry.” Very cool. 

The CAA was instrumental in torpedoing rent control efforts like Prop 10 and AB 1482, and it is widely held that these races would never have been competitive, due to the scale of real estate capital and its ability to flood the public with misleading propaganda.

An independent expenditure is formed when a large interest group gets together, pools some cash, and freelances ads and fliers, ostensibly for their own purposes. A major stipulation is that these IEs are not supposed to coordinate directly with the campaigns themselves. 

This work-around allows well-funded special interest groups to spend a shit ton of money outside the allowances of normal campaign spending limits, effectively nullifying any sort of regulatory caps on election spending. Provided, of course, that there is no coordination between the expenditure and the candidate’s campaign. 

The CAA expenditure is paying Bearstar Strategies, whose CV includes working with Kamala Harris, for their hard mailers. 

They’ve spent nearly $80,000 on mailers opposing Eunisses Hernandez, for example, with mailers saying that her ideas are “extreme and dangerous” and that she would “permit heroin injection in our communities,” which is a grossly misleading way to frame harm reduction policies. 

Bearstar is also currently working on Rick Caruso’s mayoral campaign, which is similarly hitting LA’s airwaves and mailboxes with a deluge of campaign ads.

For TV ads, the CAA expenditure is contracting with Sadler Strategic Media Inc., dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in the form of predictably trashy attack ads like one against Soto-Martinez that highlights a “60% Increase in Violent Crime.”

Here is a sample of what that money has bought, with TV ads running in the six figures and mailers costing about $10K a hit.

And here is what it looks like every time the CAA injects money into these races:

If it wasn’t already evident by the candidates’ platforms, this breakdown of who the CAA is opposing and supporting cleanly frames who is on the side of renters and who is not.

It also gives Angelenos an indication of areas where apartment barons have a big stake (i.e. renter-rich districts like CD 13 and CD 1) and think they can win. 

The independent expenditure started spending money in this election cycle at the end of April. 

In the three weeks since, the CAA has spent $1,963,490.72 on LA races.