Negative campaigning and outside spending in the LA mayor’s race

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Eric Garcetti (L) and Wendy Greuel (R) celebrate after winning a place in the May mayoral election.

This Tuesday is the Los Angeles general election. Thousands of paid canvassers have taken to the streets to get out the vote. And there have been lots of TV ads that have been increasingly negative.

Much of the money for these efforts isn’t actually coming from the campaigns. They’re coming from outside expenditure groups – PACs. They can pretty much say and do whatever they want. And they’re largely targeting Latino voters.

One of the most common things we’ve heard in this election is that City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti aren’t all that different. Both are well-off, well-connected, Democrats with relatively similar views on education, labor and development. So there’s really nowhere to go but negative.

Two independent groups have been leading the charge. Working Californians is the biggest PAC, backed by city labor unions, mainly those representing Department of Water and Power employees, and has spent at least $3.5 million for Greuel. And then there’s Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti for Mayor 2013. It’s raised over $1 million. They ran a Spanish-language TV ad linking Greuel to former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Proposition 187, his 1994 measure to deny benefits to undocumented immigrants:

Greuel was a registered Republican for 13 years. But she blasted the ad as misleading. She switched her party affiliation to Democrat in 1992 and opposed Prop187. Even Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa denounced the ad during a press conference on police reform, calling it “a bald-faced misrepresentation of fact.”

But Rick Jacobs, co-chair of “Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti,” denied those accusations.

“It is a very simple series of facts. If Wendy didn’t think Pete Wilson was the right person to lead her party, why didn’t she leave her party?”

Garcetti himself sent out a tweet that day saying “I trust @Wendy_Greuel when she says she was not for Prop 187.”

But the fact is, the negative ad may still help Garcetti, according to Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “He gets to benefit from the attack, and then he benefits from getting to say, I don’t agree with that. It can become a downside if people associate Eric Garcetti with that attack and there’s backlash against him, but I think in most cases it’s a win for the candidate.”

Another Spanish language ad from a Greuel supporter tried to link Garcetti to Arizona’s controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Mayor Villaraigosa went after that one too.  “I know Eric Garcetti. Eric Garcetti does not support the policies of self-deportation,” Villaraigosa said. He called both ads “over the top” and said they should be taken off the air.

Meanwhile, another controversy has brewed up over these mailers sent to Latino voters:


In fact, Greuel has only said she’d supporting raising the pay of hotel workers to $15 an hour.

“There isn’t a specific proposal on the table, but we want to raise the expectations of all workers, said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary–treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which helps fund the group behind the mailers.  “And we believe, and it’s our opinion, that she will be the kind of candidate that will raise wages and help us raise wages for all workers,” Durazo said. Also, there’s no city minimum wage.

It’s messages like these that could boost voter turnout on Tuesday, according to Loyola Law School’s Jessica Levinson. Fear, she says, is a great motivator. “So if some of these negative ads by the outside groups will scare people into going to the polls, that could make a big difference,” Levinson said. And as long as these outside groups are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money, she said, negative ads are here to stay.