With contract talks for 85,000 county workers on the horizon, labor unions are pouring money into an independent expenditure committee, or Super PAC, created to help elect former State Senator Sheila Kuehl win a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Unions representing a wide range of workers -- including sheriff’s deputies, psychiatric social workers and agricultural inspectors -- have contributed to help Kuehl in her contest with former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver. The five-member county board approves labor contracts with county workers.
Shriver’s campaign committee raised $1,031,505 – nearly twice the amount of money as Kuehl’s committee -- from July 1 to September 30. A business-backed independent committee supporting Shriver has raised another $580,000 to help him.
Kuehl is rolling over $200,000 from the primary election, according to her strategist Parke Skelton. But to date, it's the labor committee that has leveled the play field for Kuehl, who served for 14 years in the state legislature.
“We want someone with experience -- that’s the main reason we are supporting Sheila Kuehl,” said LA County Labor Federation Secretary-Treasurer Maria Elena Durazo.
“She has shown with her voting record that she supports working people’s needs,” she added.
Kuehl's long relationship with labor unions -- they have backed her in most of her state races -- has raised concerns among fiscal conservatives, who worry she will be too generous when approving labor contracts.
“The existing county board has done an outstanding job holding the line on both payrolls and pensions,” said Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben. “We do not think that Sheila will do the same thing.”
The chamber has endorsed Shriver, citing his experience in the business world. Shriver, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, worked on Wall Street and owns a film and philanthropic business.
Kuehl has said she would be a good steward of the county’s finances. “The idea of equating being for working families with being profligate with the budget is offensive,” she told KPCC.
Business groups also worry Kuehl would be unfriendly to business – something she said is also not true. The county board sets development policies in unincorporated areas.
Both Kuehl and Shriver are Democrats seeking to replace termed-out Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district runs from Santa Monica to Hollywood and includes most of the San Fernando Valley. Kuehl won more support in the primary election than Shriver, beating him 36-29 percent.
In addition to business groups, wealthy and well-known individuals continue to write big checks to help the well-connected Shriver.
- Investor Warren Buffett has kicked in $8,000.
- Robert Tuttle, who owns a string of Southern California car dealerships and once served as an assistant to President Ronald Reagan, has donated $20,000.
- Filmmaker and Democratic Party donor Stephen Bing has pitched in $10,000.
- Real estate developer Nelson Rising wrote a check for $25,000. He was instrumental in getting the late LA Mayor Tom Bradley get elected in 1973.
Each wrote checks to the independent committee supporting Shriver. There is no contribution or spending limit on independent expenditure committees. Candidates do no control such committees, and they are prohibited from coordinating their campaign activities with them.
Shriver is not entirely without labor support. The carpenters union has contributed $100,000 to the independent committee.
Under L.A. County election rules, individual contributions to a candidates’ personal campaign committee are limited to $1,500. Campaign committees also are prohibited from spending more than $1.4 million. In an unusual move, Shriver has listed his campaign contributors on his website.
UPDATED Oct. 09 to reflect that labor has backed Kuehl in most of her state races. During two key primaries, labor unsuccessfully supported Kuehl's opponent.