Caruso on track to exceed $100 million in campaign spending

Rick Caruso is on track to spend more than $100 million on his Los Angeles mayoral bid through Nov. 8, a staggering sum that has put the real estate developer in some of the most closely watched and expensive midterm races in the country on par with candidate spending.

A little over a week before Election Day, a new set of campaign finance disclosures offers new details on how Caruso and his opponent, MP Karen Bass, are allocating their resources in the final days of the campaign.

The records, released late Thursday and covering a 28-day period from September 25 to October 22, also illustrate how the Caruso campaign has drastically accelerated spending in recent weeks.

The revelations come at a critical time in the struggle for leadership in the country’s second largest city. Bass finished first in the June primary by a 7-point margin, and polls showed the longtime lawmaker widening her lead over Caruso for most of the summer. However, it is widely believed that the race tightened in the autumn when Caruso returned to television and the candidates went head-to-head in a series of debates.

Both campaigns were thrown off balance this month after The Times reported on a leaked recording by three councilors and a top union leader. The ensuing aftermath brought race relations in Los Angeles and the City Hall scandal into the international spotlight, with evolving implications for the mayoral election.

But amidst the chaos, one thing has remained constant: Caruso has continued to pour previously unimaginable sums into his campaign.

According to records submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Committee, the developer has made a record-breaking $92 million in expenses since he began running for office in February. Almost a third of that spend – approximately $29.5 million – was spent during the most recent filing period. All but a small fraction of Caruso’s total spending comes from the billionaire’s own pocket.

The Caruso campaign spent an average of just over $1 million per day during the 28-day period covered in Thursday’s filing. Should Caruso continue to spend this much, his total spending by Election Day would likely surpass $108 million.

Bass also accelerated their spending during the latest sign-up period, albeit at far lower margins. The congresswoman spent about $2 million from Sept. 25 to Oct. 22, nearly double what she spent in the previous 12-or-so weeks.

Bass also earned just over $710,000 in entries and received $1,027,200 in matching city funds during the most recent submission period.

Nearly three-quarters of Bass’ spending last month went toward TV airtime and production costs. Bass is said to spend a total of more than $4 million on advertising during the primary and general elections, with most of that sum going towards the airing of a single television commercial portraying her as a battle-hardened leader who successfully navigates various crises as a legislator Has .

Caruso’s deep pockets give him a massive advantage in the city’s advertising wars: the developer is set to spend more than $53 million through Nov. 8 on a month-long spate of TV, radio, and digital ads, according to data from media-tracking firm AdImpact.

“That’s federal election spending,” said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic strategist and political data expert, of Caruso’s projected spending of over $100 million.

Caruso’s spending also put him in league with the spending of candidates in some of the nation’s most hotly contested national congressional elections. But, according to Mitchell, “dollars don’t go as far in LA as they do in other parts of the country.”

Los Angeles is a particularly expensive media market, and network TV ad purchases will extend well beyond the city’s borders, Mitchell said.

Caruso spent nearly $7 million on television airtime and production costs during the last filing period.

Those media costs include a $900,000 donation in kind to a political action committee that Caruso formed in late May to support Proposition 1, a voting measure that would specifically enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

The in-kind donation to the committee — along with a $100,000 contribution from Caruso last week — brings the developer full circle of a $1 million pledge earlier this spring. Bass had criticized Caruso earlier this month when he had yet to put any money into the committee.

The Caruso campaign also spent about $3.5 million on canvassing during the most recent filing period, bringing their total pre-election fieldwork investment to just over $13 million.

Mitchell said he’s not aware of a single state or congressional election in the country where such a sum is spent on field testing.

There’s certainly no precedent for such a massive publicity program in an LA candidates’ race, but the campaign does raise hopes that a gargantuan investment in multilingual door knocking can help nudge voters who frequently miss local races to the polls.

“If it proves effective, it could end up destroying a lot of what we think campaigns should be spending money on,” Mitchell said, describing the kind of culture-specific field programs that can be built with such vast resources. Caruso on track to exceed $100 million in campaign spending

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