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Election 2014: Super PACs set stage for big spending in Shriver-Kuehl showdown

Bobby Shriver faces Sheila Kuehl in November for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Bobby Shriver faces Sheila Kuehl in November for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Shriver Campaign/Kuehl Campaign

A third super PAC has thrown its support behind Bobby Shriver in the hotly contested race for a seat on the powerful five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.  Shriver, the former mayor of Santa Monica and nephew of President John Kennedy, faces former State Senator Sheila Kuehl, who beat Shriver in the June primary 36-29 percent.

Shriver refused to abide by spending limits in the primary, contributing one million dollars of his own money. But he’s agreed to contribution limits of $1,500 and a spending cap of $1.4 million in the general election. That means super PACs could play a prominent role in the only supervisor’s race on the November ballot.

The limits “encourage people to give to outside super PACs because they can have a much bigger impact,” said Bill Carrick, Shriver’s campaign consultant.  Unlike candidates, these groups, known as independent expenditure committees, can raise and spend unlimited amounts. They are prohibited from coordinating their efforts with the candidate.

The latest super PAC to get behind Shriver -- called the Neighborhood Alliance for Safe and Healthy Families supporting Bobby Shriver for LA County Supervisor 2014 -- is run by longtime LA political consultant John Shallman. A spokesman said “neighborhood leaders” are behind the effort – but declined to name them. 

“I think its good Bobby Shriver accepted the limits and is not going to self fund,” said Parke Skelton, campaign strategist for Kuehl. “But voters should be concerned about where the super PAC money comes from.”

Super PACs are required to file campaign reports on contributors but often receive less scrutiny than contributions to candidates, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who sits on the LA City Ethics Commission.

“When candidates accept contributions, there is more scrutiny and accountability,” she said. "Candidates can easily say they are not responsible for the message of super PACs that support them," said Levinson.

Carrick said he appreciated the support for Shriver from outside groups, but he also expressed a common frustration among political consultants.

“Candidates no longer control their own campaigns,” he said. “I think the outside spending encourages more negativity.”

Levinson is questioning her own longtime support of campaign donation and spending limits, in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allow unlimited Super PAC spending.

“If you could allow the candidates unlimited donations and spending, you wouldn’t have outside groups hijacking the campaign,” Levinson said. But she also noted super PACs are likely "here to stay."

Shriver and Kuehl are competing to represent the Third District, which stretches from Hollywood to Santa Monica and includes the entire San Fernando Valley. The race is non-partisan, and both are Democrats.

The winner will replace Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is termed out of office in December.