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The CD12 Election Money No One is Talking About

John Lee’s donor base says just as much about him as fossil fuel-backed PACs

Note: Figures reflect contributions as of August 7, 2019. All dollar amounts and information on mailers can be found at ethics.lacity.org/elections.

With just a few days to go until the August 13th runoff, total financial support for each candidate — campaign contributions, City matching funds, and independent expenditures — has exploded, with about $1.08 million for John Lee and $970,000 for Loraine Lundquist. But the complexion of the funding sources backing each candidate tell two very different stories.

Since there is an $800 limit on direct contributions to a candidate’s campaign, much more attention has been paid to money spent by outside supporting groups, or Independent Expenditures (IEs), than by individual donors. There is no limit on IE money, but the supporting groups cannot coordinate with the candidates, and the candidates have no say whether or how the money is spent. While IE money for Lundquist has mostly come from environmental groups, the LA County Democratic Party, and hedge fund manager Aaron Sosnick, a former Northridge resident who has contributed money to the arts and progressive causes in LA over the years, Lee’s major IEs are business associations such as the LA County Business Federation, police organizations, and Working Californians, a PAC sponsored by IBEW Local 18 (the union representing LADWP workers). The fossil fuel industry and other businesses such as billboard advertising companies and taxi companies have heavily contributed to the PAC. Working Californians has spent over $236,000, mostly on mailers, supporting Lee and attacking Lundquist, often including outrageous lies meant to frighten voters; for example, one mailer says that that Lundquist will raise each ratepayer’s utility bill by $3,571 and start “forcing residents to buy electric vehicles.”

Lee and Lundquist have sparred over campaign money during candidate forums. Lundquist has correctly pointed out that Lee has taken money from real estate interests, developers, and the fossil fuel industry. Lee has brushed this off, with false recriminations that Lundquist had also taken fossil fuel money. While he has tried to depict himself as a different kind of candidate rejecting the status quo, Lee’s career as a consultant and an indifferent City Hall staffer (including during and after the Aliso Canyon disaster), along with allegations of sexual harassment, belie his claims.

If there was any remaining doubt about who John Lee is and why we need Loraine in office so badly, the following numbers reaffirm it.

Companies and business associations have directly contributed $96,650 to Lee’s campaign (this does not include money from a multitude of trade unions). Lundquist’s campaign has taken eight donations from companies and two from law offices, totaling $4,678. As noted in previous reporting, many of the donations to Lee come from companies dealing in real estate and development, advertising, paving and parking lots, and fossil fuels. (Note: Throughout, I have tried my best to omit small business and small business owners in the district from these figures.)

Further, Lee’s staff has boasted that Lee’s greater fundraising shows that he has more community support than Lundquist. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. Aside from the enormous grassroots energy behind Loraine and the inspiring volunteer canvassing efforts supporting her, the campaign contribution numbers contradict Lee’s picture. Lundquist has received more donations from individuals than Lee, with the vast majority under $200. Meanwhile, Lee has fewer but wealthier donors, over half of whom gave more than $500. Of course, this means Lee’s big donors have an outsized impact on his campaign coffers.

Furthermore, Lee’s donors are not just a random smattering of individuals. Indeed, there were at least two seemingly coordinated efforts by employees of two companies to donate to Lee’s campaign: employees at the real estate giant Coldwell Banker gave twelve separate donations totaling $5,950, while higher-ups at Petrochem Materials Innovation, LLC, a paving company Lee used to be a consultant for, gave nine max-dollar donations totaling $7,200. However, the most telling characteristic of Lee’s campaign contributors is simply the prevalence of business execs and managers, often working in the same industries that have given to Lee directly. This is in stark contrast to Lundquist’s donors, among whom the only mode I could detect was educators.

I will let the following table speak for itself.

Some Occupations of Campaign Donors

(Note: Again, I did not simply do a blind keyword search; for example, I would exclude “stage manager” from the category of management.)

It is quite clear who the “community” supporting John Lee is. This race is a battle between grassroots, community-based organizing, and vested interests backing the worst of the status quo in City Hall. With the outpouring of support I have seen for Loraine, I am optimistic that CD12 will finally get someone who will fight for their communities and be a clear, honest, and determined voice for transformation in City Hall.