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Transfer Tax Battle Could Shatter Fundraising Records

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By Jorge Casuso

September 19, 2022 -- The battle over Mayor Sue Himmelrich's transfer tax measure promises to be a costly one, with a record-breaking fundraising advantage quickly erased with a single donation.

To date, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights Co-Chair Michael Soloff had donated $335,000 -- easily shattering the record for an individual -- to the Measure GS campaign sponsored by his wife, the mayor.

But the lion's share of the five separate loans Soloff made to the campaign, along with a $50,000 loan from Himmelrich, was spent placing the measure on the November 8 ballot, according to campaign finance disclosure statements.

Of the $282,032 the campaign has spent, $242,154 was paid to California Field Campaigns, which gathered more than 10,000 signatures to qualify the measure, Standing Firm for Santa Monica Homelessness Prevention, Affordable Housing and Public Education.

That left an ending cash balance of $102,968, an advantage that was quickly erased when the newly formed No on Measures DT & GS, Santa Monicans Against Ridiculous Taxes reported a $275,000 donation last week,

The campaign committee -- sponsored by Kilroy Realty and Douglas Emmett, Inc., two of Santa Monica's largest property owners -- received the contribution from the California Business Roundtable Issues PAC, according to a campaign finance disclosure statement filed last Thursday.

In addition to opposing Measure GS -- a $56 per $1,000 transfer tax hike for properties that sell for $8 million or more -- the Vote No campaign is also opposing Measure DT.

Sponsored by Councilmember Phil Brock and placed on the ballot by the City Council, the more modest measure would increase the transfer tax by $25 per $1,000 to boost City services and programs cut back during the coronavirus shutdown ("Opposing Arguments Promise Bitter Transfer Tax Battle," August 10, 2022).

Brock has vowed to mount a campaign backed by residents and business owners, but the pro-DT campaign has not yet filed a campaign finance disclosure statement with the City Clerk.

The DT campaign is not expected to compete financially with Himmelrich's measure or the campaign mounted by its opponents.

It is not clear how much more money Soloff, an attorney with Munger Tolles & Olson, and Himmelrich, an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, will pump into the campaign or if other donors will contribute.

So far, the total amount of Soloff's loans to Measure GS easily shatters the record for an individual, which was set by Himmelrich, when she spent $160,000 on her 2014 election.

And it will likely surpass the $365,000 NMS Properties spent in 2016 to defeat Measure LV, which would have required voter approval for most major developments and planning regulations.

It also could top the more than $400,000 The Edward Thomas Co. -- which owns Shutters on the Beach Hotel and Casa del Mar -- spent in 2000 to fund the nation's first business-backed living wage initiative, which failed at the polls.

The following few weeks will indicate how much money opponents of the two transfer tax measures on the November ballot are willing to spend, and if it will be anywhere near the $1.2 million spent six years ago to defeat LV.

But with a single initial investment, they have gained a significant financial advantage with nearly two months to go before election day.

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