While the LACDP originally wanted to create a “blacklist” of consultants who worked with the anti-abortion Caruso, they later softened on the Catholic billionaire.
The Los Angeles County Democratic Party (LACDP) attempted to create a “Do Not Hire” list of party businesses or advisers who worked with LA billionaire and possible mayoral candidate Rick Caruso. Caruso recently registered as a Democrat after years of being registered with no party preference.
The original motion, drafted by Angelica Dueñas in September 2021, resolved to “create a ‘Do Not Hire’ list of any Democratic consulting firm, business, individual operative, vendor, sub-vendor, pollster, or policy aide who works for and/or advises Rick Caruso.” The document noted Caruso’s large donations to anti-abortion members of the Republican party.
The language for the motion was eventually softened. Dueñas says the LACDP felt it did not have the right to dictate which consultants should or shouldn’t have jobs. However, she also noted that the party had created blacklists for consultants who have worked for progressive challengers against incumbents. The eventual resolution, which passed, states that the LACDP condemns any anti-choice candidates, and “encourages” consultants and other campaign staff to not work with them.
“They felt that we didn’t have jurisdiction over what people choose to take on a job. I said, ‘The Democratic party has been blacklisting people working with progressive challengers who go up against incumbents for years,’” says Dueñas. “We ended up making it less about Rick and more about any non-Democrat running in the county.”
Mark Gonzalez, Chair of the LACDP, told Knock LA via email, “That resolution was focused on the larger position of our values.” When asked if the party would condemn Caruso for his ties to anti-choice causes, Gonzalez wrote, “The only ‘condemnation’ will be when Los Angeles voters will decide at the ballot box whether a candidate meets our California values.”
The mayoral election is nonpartisan, meaning that there will not be a party listed on the ballot next to each candidate’s name. “‘Democrat’ isn’t going to be next to his name on the ballot, but we’re aligned with state and federal elections where there are partisan races and, given the times, there’s no way you can be on that ballot and not have to reckon with the partisan climate,” says Rob Quan, organizer with Unrig LA, a group focused on representative government and the influence of money in politics. “There’s just a mathematical reality if you’re looking to win in a city like Los Angeles, and that kind of rightward lane isn’t going to be something viable in the long term.”
Quan also adds that there is strategic value in switching party preference, as it allows endorsements that may have been previously difficult to come by: “That’s going to be one of the things opponents say — that he’s a Republican, and that he’s aligned with them on certain issues. There’s value in ensuring none of his candidates to his left get too strong. Just having another name there helps hold down an opponent from getting across that threshold [of] 60% or whatever it is,” says Quan. He compared the tactic to when Councilmember John Lee switched from Republican to independent, saying Lee could now be more likely to receive endorsements from colleagues.
Sarah Roos, a member of LACDP, says she’s “fed up with born-again Democrats, who are switching labels after being Republicans all their life” and calls Caruso’s switch a “Republican ploy to erase political parties.”
Caruso does in fact appear to have long-standing moral ties to anti-abortion groups. In 2008, he donated $6 million to fund the $33 million construction of the USC Caruso Catholic Center. The Caruso Center notes on its website, “We adhere to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Safe Environment for Children (USCCB),” a Catholic assembly of bishops.
The group dictates stances on several issues, including abortion, stating: “God loves each human life from the instant of his or her conception and entrusts this gift to the protection of a mother and father. Abortion ends the life of a child and offends God. It also deeply wounds the women and men involved.”
The website also provides links for further reading, like “Abortion is Not Healthcare,” and a webinar on how to “Stop Taxpayer-Funded Abortion.” One offers analysis on the legacy of Roe v. Wade 30 years on, concluding that the ruling “must be reversed.” Another part of the website peddles debunked conspiracy theories about Planned Parenthood selling organs and fetal tissue.
Elsewhere, the USCCB website says that it is “promoting and defending marriage” as a “covenant between one man and one woman directed to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.”
In 2017, Caruso was given the Knight Commander honor in the Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis. The Church said in a statement Caruso received the award for being an “exemplar of devotion to the church, having lived a life of service and generosity to so many in need with [the] Archdiocese.”
Caruso received another award from the Catholic Church later that year at the Cardinal Awards Dinner. When asked about the awards he’s received, he stated, “Actions great and small are equally important, so the ‘who’ or ‘what’ isn’t relevant to me. I am very grateful to be acknowledged within my community. That being said, having Archbishop [José H] Gomez, a man I deeply respect, recognize my contributions, as well as Pope Francis naming me as a Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great — these are honors that will stay with me forever.”
LA Archbishop Gómez has described abortion as a “continued injustice” that would “advance moral evils.”
Caruso has championed Republican causes for decades and given substantial donations to GOP candidates. In 2015, Caruso and his family attended the Republican debate held at the Reagan library. His son told the Hollywood Reporter, “My dad was a big supporter of [Ronald] Reagan back in the day and we’ve gone to a couple of debates there in the past.”
In the past, Caruso has donated to Democrats like LA mayoral candidate and Congressmember Karen Bass. However, Caruso has donated nearly $1 million to Republican candidates, and even served on GOP committees.
In 2004, Caruso donated $100,000 to the Progress for America Voter Fund, a super PAC for George W. Bush. The PAC was fined $750,000 for ethics violations three years later. Caruso also maxed out donations to Minority Whip Senator John Thune of South Dakota, who proudly states on his website that he has a “100 percent pro-life voting record.” Congressmember Pete Sessions, who went on to be subpoenaed as part of an investigation into the Trump administration, received $1,125 from Caruso that year.
Caruso gave $4,600 to Mitch McConnell’s 2007 campaign for US Senate. McConnell has a terrible voting record on reproductive rights, and vowed to push a vote that would put a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
That year, Caruso also lent his support to Steve Cooley’s campaign for attorney general of California by donating $12,999. Cooley went on to represent the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. Cooley was also behind the release of abortion providers’ names amidst a surge of anti-abortion violence.
In 2016, Caruso donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich’s presidential super PAC. As governor, Kasich passed a 12-week abortion ban which penalized doctors who performed the procedure with up to 18 months in prison.
When Kevin McCarthy ran for Congress in 2017, Caruso gave $5,400. McCarthy is one of the primary deniers of the January 6, 2020, insurrection and has been the subject of a probe related to the incident.
In April 2020 — only a month into America’s raging COVID-19 pandemic — Caruso reportedly “signed on enthusiastically” to be part of a group of Trump donors and business executives to assist former President Trump in reopening the economy and “chart[ing] a path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity.” Caruso did not respond to a request for comment on this story as of publication time.
LACDP hasn’t specifically noted or condemned Caruso for his views, in spite of their resolution. Though he has not yet officially declared his candidacy for mayor, Caruso has retained the campaign strategy firm Bearstar Strategies. Bearstar has worked with several progressive Democrats in the past who are staunchly pro-choice. Knock LA reached out to Bearstar for comment, and directly contacted Tausif Khan, a campaign associate for Bearstar. He told Knock LA he’d call back, hung up, and did not respond to a follow-up question about rescheduling.
Congressmember Katie Porter, who worked with Bearstar, wrote in 2019, “No matter who it is, every woman should have the right to make healthcare decisions for herself.” Governor Gavin Newsom, another client, has said that California should cover a portion of the costs of people coming in from out of state seeking an abortion. Vice President Kamala Harris, who worked with the firm during her victorious 2016 senatorial race, has called for codifying Roe v. Wade as law and preserving funding for Planned Parenthood.
The unifying theme of running as a billionaire Democrat in California appears to be less about a shared sense of values and standing up for women’s rights, and more about leveraging money and power to attempt to strong-arm an electoral victory.