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

Sky's the new spending limit in LA's Westside Supervisor race

Candidates Bobby Shriver and Sheila Kuehl are both Santa Monica residents who are running to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Candidates Bobby Shriver and Sheila Kuehl are both Santa Monica residents who are running to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Shriver Campaign/Kuehl Campaign

The stage is set for a big-spending race for an L.A. County Board of Supervisors seat. This week candidate Bobby Shriver rejected the county's voluntary spending limits and declared he would spend at least  $300,000 of his own money on his campaign.

Shriver's decision comes with two consequences, courtesy of the county's campaign contribution law known as Proposition B.

First, in rejecting the spending cap, he is limited by law to receiving contributions of no more than $300 per person or entity prior to the June primary election. The previous limit per donation would have been $1,500. However, he may now spend an unlimited amount on his campaign. Had he adhered to the fundraising cap, the spending limit would have been $1.4 million.

Second, the decision lifts both the contribution and spending limits on his main rival,  former state Senator Sheila Kuehl, and other candidates in the Third District race.

Shriver's chief campaign strategist Bill Carrick said the expenditure limit was rejected because it was too low to pay for TV and other communications with more than a million registered voters in the West L.A. county district, which is currently represented by Zev Yaroslavsky.

Carrick declined to estimate how much Shriver expects to spend in the campaign, but said, "$1.4 million dollars would not allow us to be competitive against a political veteran like Sheila Kuehl."

Shriver sent a message to his potential donors and supporters this week promising to limit donations to his campaign to no more than $300 per person for the primary election. The e-mail didn't mention he would be digging into his own pocket to supplement the fund.

Kuehl sent a message of her own in  response to Shriver's move, asking supporters to contribute any amount up to $10,000. She said she has not ruled out accepting funds from any category of contributors.

"I haven't had the opportunity to exclude any source of contributions, but it's not like oil or tobacco companies" are likely to donate, Kuehl said, citing her legislative record.

She said she expected her campaign to spend as much as $1.5 million.

The cost of ads, the million-person electorate and the competitiveness of the race for a rare open seat on the five-member Board of Supervisors could make this an uncommonly expensive race, said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A.

"I think this could go very high," Sonenshein said. "This is a high turnout district, so the cost per voter is high ad the media costs a great deal."

With Shriver limited to  accepting only contributions of $300 or less, those who want to spend more on his behalf can do so via an independent expenditure committee. Such groups are set up by supporters of the candidate, but they can't coordinate the spending.

Sonenshein said the relationships Kuehl built up over her years in the legislature was likely to also induce independent expenditures for her as well.

"This is a seriously competitive race," he said. "I don't think anybody can tell you which of those two candidates is likely to prevail."

He said a trend begun in the Los Angeles mayor's race of frequent candidate debates might take hold in the Third District because such events are inexpensive and they engage a well-educated and engaged voter base in the county's west end.

Eight candidates have filed to run, including West Hollywood City Councilman John Duran.