Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA mayor's Race: Record-setting PAC spending funds person-to-person ground campaign

Canvasser Miguel Morales shares dinner with fellow campaign workers at a campaign field office paid for by an independent group supporting mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
Canvasser Miguel Morales shares dinner with fellow campaign workers at a campaign field office paid for by an independent group supporting mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti.
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Independent groups have spent a record $18 million dollars on Los Angeles city and school board races -- nearly three times the previous high set in 2011.

Most of the money paid for campaign mailers, and TV and radio ads. A big portion of the rest went to voter outreach.

With only a few days left before Los Angeles chooses its next mayor, campaign worker Eleanor Ramos told her team of paid precinct walkers that they may face people who are tired of being hit up for their vote. But she encouraged them to press the message for Wendy Greuel anyway.
"That sixty seconds at the door is all you need" to win a vote for the City Controller's campaign, Ramos said.
These workers are among hundreds of paid and volunteer foot soldiers in ground campaigns that are financed by political action committees--or PACs. These groups can raise and spend unlimited dollars to influence a campaign.

They have a tough job: as few as one in four Los Angeles voters is expected to cast a ballot in the May 21 runoff.

Ramos's group make about $13 an hour.  They're being paid by a group of unions working with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

They start each day at a cavernous old wooden garage on Vernon Avenue in South Los Angeles. They pump themselves up with a slow clap and "si se puede" chant before going out into the heat and the streets.

Sharon Hughes-Taylor works mornings caring for her aunt as a unionized home health care worker. Walking precincts has been her second job since April. In this neighborhood near 25th Street and Normandie, a lot of the homes are behind gates, some locked, others holding back dogs or chickens.

Sometimes the best she can do is talk to a relative of the registered voter and leave a message.

"Could you let them know that Sharon came by and I'm here to get their vote for Wendy Greuel for mayor on May 21st?," she asked the father of one voter from outside a security gate recently.
PACs have already sunk $9.2 million into the mayor's race alone -- and that is unlikely to be the final tally. The total has been rising steeply each day of final week in the campaign.
Nearly three-quarters of the PAC money in the mayoral campaign is pro-Greuel. And most of that is from public employee unions who see Greuel as a better choice than Eric Garcetti when it's time for contracts to be renewed.
Across town, at the Cypress Park field office of an independent group backing Garcetti, Irma Valencia called Spanish-speaking voters.
"Buenos Tardes, Don Jorge," she started. She asked him if he knew Garcetti and would vote for him. He's undecided, he said. She marked down the response on her tally sheet, and dialed the next number.
At 4:30, the workers who spent the afternoon walking precincts showed up for dinner before the evening's canvassing began. The campaign offices keep a lot of food on hand to fuel their workers.
One of those workers, Miguel Morales, said he likes going door-to-door, except for, "Dogs! Big big, nasty dogs."

"Before getting a job like this I always thought about the money in politics, it's a lot of money, my big question always being, who's putting in the money and what are they getting in return?" he said.
Working the streets for a candidate has altered his perspective.

"What I see here day to day, people collecting their paychecks at the end of  the pay period, it's a completely different story," he said. "It's about people with necessity finding a job that they're good at."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the hourly rate for the canvassers as $9.