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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 17, 2016 -- Independent expenditures are playing a big money role in the ballot measures campaigns, especially for Measure LV, this election season. That is not the case so far for the City Council races.

The usual players such as Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association are spending money to support their chosen candidates.

Activist group Santa Monica Forward also has a campaign committee.

But so far no independent expenditure committee has been formed specifically to support or oppose candidates in this year's election.

The group Responsible Leadership for a Better Santa Monica was created for the 2014 election, and spent nearly $70,000 to support Pam O’Connor and Frank Gruber. O’Connor was elected and Gruber was not.

In 2012, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future spent in the six figures to support Gleam Davis, Terry O'Day, Ted Winterer and Shari Davis. The big spending shocked even one of the candidates benefiting from it.

"That's a ridiculous amount of money and it really doesn't belong in Santa Monica City Council races,” said Gleam Davis at the time (“Developer PAC Drops Money Bomb on Santa Monica Council Race,” October 26, 2012).

Three of the four candidates supported by the group won in 2012, with the exception being Shari Davis.

Independent expenditure committees are significant because, unlike candidates' individual campaigns, they are not limited in how much they can raise from individuals and organizations.

Their one significant restriction is that they are prohibited from coordinating efforts with the candidate they are supporting.

As of last week, independent expenditures have been limited to SMRR. the police officers union and Santa Monica Forward.

They have spent small sums of money, with SMRR backing incumbents Ted Winterer, Vazquez and Davis while the union and Santa Monica Forward back those candidates as well as incumbent Terry O’Day.

SMRR and the police union have much more money in their coffers available for further spending.

Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) has endorsed candidates and Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) is expected to do so.

They would likely spend some money to promote those candidates prior to Election Day.

The lack of big money spending on the independent expenditure front in the council election could be due to the appearance of an campaign lacking competition, at least when it comes to fundraising.

Only five of the 10 candidates -- the incumbents and challenger Armen Melkonians -- have reported having raised any money at all for their individual campaigns (“Santa Monica Council Incumbents Do Nearly All the Fundraising,” September 30, 2016).

The Lookout could not find a similar situation to this campaign in recent Santa Monica election history. Candidates must submit their updated fundraising and spending information by October 27.

But the dearth of independent expenditure committee spending could change at anytime.

A new group (likely featuring familiar names) could emerge during the final weeks of the campaign in a city known for election season surprises.

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