Santa Monica Lookout
Developer PAC Drops Money Bomb on Santa Monica Council Race
By Jason Islas
October 26, 2012 -- Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF) has raised over $215,000 in the three weeks since the group last disclosed its campaign finances.
With less than two weeks before the November 6 elections. SMURF is now armed with nearly $400,000, outraising its nearest competition -- Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) -- by nearly $300,000.
The group is funded mostly by developer interests, including NMS Properties, Inc., which is currently one of Santa Monica's largest housing developers. ("Santa Monica's New Developer-Backed Political Group Outraises SMRR," October 9, 2012)
Other donors to the group include developers with major projects in the planning pipeline. They include Hines 26th Street, LLC, which contributed $49,999, and BCP - 525 Colorado, LLC, which donated $25,000.
Ocean Avenue, LLC, which is proposing a major redevelopment of the Miramar Hotel that has triggered a political war in the beachside city, also kicked in $49,999.
“That's a ridiculous amount of money and it really doesn't belong in Santa Monica City Council races,” said incumbent Gleam Davis.
Davis is one of four candidates -- including Terry O'Day, Ted Winterer and Shari Davis -- supported by the Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC).
But the legal nature of an IEC makes it impossible for her -- or the others endorsed by them -- to communicate with those fundraising on the candidates' behalf.
“I can't call them up and tell them to stop doing this,” she said. “Unfortunately the supreme court has really tied our hands in terms of how we can regulate these IECs, but it's a shame that they may possibly influence our election.”
Gleam Davis is referring to the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which said that the government could not interfere with IECs' ability to campaign on the behalf of candidates.
“I hope voters understand that we, as candidates, don't condone this kind of injection of money into our City Council election,” said Shari Davis. “It takes away from our own campaigns in which we are trying to get out our own earnest messages.”
"My campaign is focused on getting out our message and not getting distracted by all this other activity," said O'Day, who signed a letter distancing himself from SMURF along with Gleam Davis and Shari Davis.
“It's pretty rare that a group of people, never give a questionnaire to or interview candidates, and then plunk down this amount of money,” said Sharon Gilpin, Winterer's campaign manager. “You'd have to be naïve to think there isn't some agenda.”
However, an official statement from the group says that their motivations are simple and they chose candidates based on their other endorsements.
“As stakeholders in our city, we agree with The Santa Monica Police Officers' Association, Santa Monica Firefighters, Local 1109 and Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS): Santa Monica is on the right track,” the statement reads. “The four candidates these organizations have endorsed are all progressive, committed Santa Monicans who share the values of our community.”
But with nearly $400,000 at their disposal -- and almost $200,000 already spent on mailers, political consultants and polling -- this group is dwarfing the competition.
To date, SMRR has raised $117,556.03 while the Santa Monica Police Officers Association for a Better Community has raised $76,199.84 from membership dues.
According to campaign disclosure forms, the City Employees' Union has just under $20,000 cash on hand to support candidates.
“By backing three candidates that are going to win anyway, they've now made it much harder for all developers in the city to not make it look like they don't have undue influence in the city,” said a source familiar with Santa Monica politics.
“I'm unable to fathom this strategy,” said Gilpin.
Sources speculate that the massive amount of money raised by this group is a result of a cold war between Santa Monica's Miramar Hotel and its neighbor, the Huntley. After the Miramar revealed its plan to add up to 120 new condos to its lot, demolish one building and build three new ones, the Huntley protested.
Developers "initially formed this group because they thought the Huntley was going to mount an attack on the Miramar that would affect all development in the City,” one source said. “It appears that the Huntley pulled back but the momentum behind the SMURF organization could not be stopped.”
However, one of the smaller groups, Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), received a $25,000 donation this reporting period, bringing them up to $40,000.
SMRG, which started with a few residents who were opposed to the Miramar expansion project, received the donation from Playground Consulting, Inc. based in Minden, Nevada.
When asked about the company, Ivan Perkins, co-chair of SMRG, said “I'm just aware that they have a large number of clients in Santa Monica.”
When asked whether one of those clients was the Huntley Hotel, he said, “As far as I know, they could be.”
Chris Sennings, president and part-owner of Playground Consultant, Inc., said he cannot disclose who the company's clients are because they primarily work in network security.
"I am an extremely strong supporter of responsible growth because I've seen what it can do to a town," Sennings said.
Sennings, who has been doing business in Santa Monica for a decade, said he has been aware of the political situtation in the city for some time.
“It's really a shame that all of these groups appeared just before the election. It's ridiculous that they're popping up before the election and their trying to influence it,” said Gleam Davis. “These groups that have no history of grassroots activism that truly bother me.”
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