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Unions bankroll independent campaigns in LA primary races

Los Angeles employee unions are spending millions to independently support Controller Wendy Greuel's run for mayor.
Los Angeles employee unions are spending millions to independently support Controller Wendy Greuel's run for mayor.
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Los Angeles public employee unions are showing their clout as they pour millions of dollars into independent campaigns that are backing candidates in Tuesday's primary elections for mayor and other city offices.

Political action committees have spent more than $4 million to support candidates in the L.A. races for mayor, city attorney, controller and eight city council districts.

It nearly matches the $4.28 million that independent groups spent in the entire city election —  primary and runoff — in 2005, which is the last time open seats were contested for both council and mayor.

The lion's share comes from public employee and other labor unions.

Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says unions are supporting the candidates they believe will preserve their jobs and benefits.

"The next mayor of Los Angeles will be involved in some very difficult decisions and the labor unions want to make sure they have a seat at the table," says Pitney, "and one of the ways they can do that is by participating in the election in a big way."

While donations to candidates' committees are limited, independent groups can spend unlimited amounts on behalf of a candidate, as long as the spending isn't coordinated with the campaign.

Wendy Greuel's mayoral campaign has gotten the most backing from PACs — nearly $2.5 million. That includes support from the firefighter and police unions.

A group called Working Californians has spent $1.6 million. At least half of that comes from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents Department of Water and Power employees. Here's a breakdown of independent expenditures in the mayor's race, as of this Wednesday:

Wendy Greuel $2,433,558  

 Kevin James $487,734  

  Eric Garcetti $3,295  

 Jan Perry $6,938  

Working Californians spokesman Sean Clegg says L.A.'s potential future budget and pension shortfalls threaten DWP jobs, which is why they are supporting Greuel, who they see as most aligned with their interests.

"Their real interest in the election is the long term health of our public utility in L.A. And it's a huge stakes question," Clegg said. He describes the group as a broad coalition of labor, individuals and businesses. However, the largest donors are the electrical workers, who have put in at least $850,000, and water works employees who have put in more than $100,000.

Greuel's main rival, city councilman Eric Garcetti, is being backed by an independent committee that is raising money for his expected runoff campaign, said Rick Jacobs, founder of a group with the unwieldy name, "Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor 2013."

The same labor groups that are supporting Greuel have put hundreds of thousands of dollars behind Gil Cedillo in the 1st Council District, Curren Price in the 9th, and John Choi in the 13th.

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