Venice defense attorney David Kanuth separated himself from a crowded field of candidates in a competitive Westside Congressional race by raising almost $800,000 from individual donors in just two months.
The 33rd Congressional District has been represented for decades by Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, but when he announced his retirement in January, 21 candidates jumped into the race. They include well-known political veterans such as State Senator Ted Lieu and former L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, and New Age author Marianne Williamson.
Kanuth, a 37-year-old Democrat, doesn't have that kind of name recognition. He's a native of Columbus, Ohio, who attended Harvard as an undergrad, then came to Southern California where he created Internet startup companies. He has lived on the Westside since 1999, except for three years while he attended law school in Washington D.C.
He also has a credit on the show biz database IMDB, as legal advisor on the 2011 feature film, "The Lincoln Lawyer," helping the writers depict courtroom dialogue and actions.
Kanuth worked as an attorney for seven years in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office. He says that experience shaped his progressive political priorities.
"I don't think anything educates somebody to the shortcomings of government policy or inaction in government like sitting next to the young men and women who are the symptoms of that failed policy," said Kanuth during an interview at his Venice campaign headquarters. "Whether it be education, immigration or the criminal justice system in general."
Greuel, Lieu and Williamson each raised more than $600,000 in the first quarter of this year in hopes of getting their message to voters in this wealthy coastal district that stretches from Malibu to Palos Verdes Peninsula and inland to the border of West Hollywood. Except for Williamson, who entered the race before Waxman decided to retire at the end of January, the dollar totals reflect about two months of fundraising.
Democratic political strategist Ed Espinoza said Kanuth's biggest challenge will be building the name recognition to get enough votes to get into the runoff. Those slots go to the two candidates getting the most votes in the June 3 primary, regardless of party affiliation.
"He needs more money than these guys, he's got to get his name out," Espinoza said. "Money helps, but he presumably has a bigger hill to climb than the other candidates."
The money Kanuth raised, all from individual donors, shows his viability as a candidate, he claimed. He said he started with a stack of blank index cards left over from his law school days, writing down names of people to contact for donations and then making call after call.
Kanuth said he plans to rely heavily on digital and social media campaigning rather than the standard mailers that are generally used in the expensive L.A. media market. The Congressional race overlaps several other competitive contests on the Westside, including the 3rd District Los Angeles County Supervisor seat and races for state Senate and Assembly.
Kanuth presents himself as an outsider candidate who will bring change to Washington, defining "outsider" as someone who has never run for public office. He also said his experience in the courtroom and as a private attorney also distinguishes him as an outsider.