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A Few Donors Carry Heavy Clout in Local Races


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A Brighter Future School Board Endorsements
By Jorge Casuso

November 3, 2022 -- (UPDATED) Santa Monica's low cap on candidate donations has bolstered the influence of both unknown donors from outside the City and powerful political players from within, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosure statements.

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), which for years has relied on the donations of hundreds of local residents, is being kept politically afloat by a few deep-pocketed donors who now lead the once-powerful organization.

Vote Armen Melkonians for City Council

Meanwhile, two newly formed Political Action Committees (PACs) are funded in large part by a real estate investor and a dentist from outside the city who have never been involved in local politics.

Over the past six weeks, SMRR has received contributions totaling $43,927, according to the most recent campaign finance statements filed with the City Clerk.

Of that amount, $43,927 was donated by SMRR's two co-chairs, the mayor and three candidates running in the November 8 elections.

CEPS School Board Endorsements
Santa Monicans for Change endorse Lana Negrete and Armen Melkonians for City Council

Mayor Sue Himmelrich donated $20,000 on October 6, followed five days later by contributions from City Council candidates Caroline Torosis ($3,553) and Jesse Zwick ($2,500), and School Board candidate Alicia Mignano ($1,000).

The most recent influx of cash came Wednesday from SMRR Co-Chairs Michael Soloff, who is Himmelrich's husband, and former mayor Denny Zane, who has run all her campaigns.

The remaining $1,874 was donated by 14 individuals who contributed between $10 and $200 each, according to the finance statements.

Santa Monica Firefighters City Council Endorsements

Santa Monica Forward, which has been a major player in local politics since 2016, has raised only $16,500 over the past six weeks to support City Council candidates.

Of that amount, $15,000 came from one contribution from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters.

That compares with $101,025 raised to back Council candidates during the same period in 2020, when the group received 27 contributions.

That year, it saw three of the four candidates it supported in the race for four full-term Council seats swept out of office.

The defeat, and the exodus of at least one key member connected to well-heeled real estate interests, have contributed to the dearth of funding this year.

Three newly created PACs -- which have no contribution limits -- are also mainly relying on large donations, each from an individual contributor.

A Brighter Future, which is backing a School Board slate hoping to upend the status quo, received donations of $10,000 and $20,000 from Burbank dentist Ara Gulesserian, who lives in Glendale, according to the LA County Registrars Office.

The total of $47,074 raised also includes a $9,999 loan and 20 donations of between $10 and $500, including $100 from Councilmember Phil Brock and $250 from Councilmember Oscar de la Torre.

In the City Council race, Santa Monicans for Residents' Rights, which has spent all its money backing slow-growth activist Armen Melkonians has received a total of $55,000.

Of that amount, $50,000 was contributed by Sergey N. Vershinn, a real estate investor from Woodland Hills; according to Santa Monica Transparency, City planning officials are not familiar with Vershinn.

Meanwhile, Santa Monicans for Safety Supporting Negrete, which was registered last week, has received one contribution of $20,000 from Douglas Emmett, one of Santa Monica's biggest commercial and residential landlords.

Editors note: This article was updated at 9:45 on November 4 to include information on donations made to A Brighter Future.

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