For the last three months, Eric Garcetti has been railing against the "super PACs" that support his rivals in the race for mayor. In fundraising e-mails, the Garcetti campaign has warned repeatedly about the ills of outside money.
Said one such appeal: "A few people with a vested interest in the election, spending unlimited amounts of money to keep change from coming to City Hall is not what we need in Los Angeles."
But with IBEW Local 18 and Republican billionaire Harold Simmons putting hundreds of thousands of dollars behind Wendy Greuel and Kevin James, Garcetti's supporters are no longer willing to be so high-minded about unlimited outside spending.
Today, an independent committee was formed to back Garcetti's campaign in the May 21 runoff election.
"We have to fight fire with fire," said Mary Jane Stevenson, one of the co-founders of the committee. "I don't think anybody in the progressive world likes what's going on in the campaign finance world right now, but that's not a reason to step back... We want to make sure that Eric is on the same kind of footing that Wendy is on."
Stevenson, who was the California director of President Obama's campaign, organized the group with Rick Jacobs, the chair of the Courage Campaign. They plan to raise money from donors who have already given the maximum $1,300 contribution to Garcetti, and want to do more.
Stevenson declined to say how much she expects to raise, but said the independent campaign would emphasize "high-tech" and "analytic-driven" tools developed during the Obama campaigns. "We're going to look at all the options we have," she said, saying the effort could include a social media campaign and TV spots.
With less than three weeks left before the March 5 primary, the group is focusing on the general election.
"We're confident that Eric is going to be in the runoff," Stevenson said. "We want to make sure that once he gets there he's going to have as much support as possible right off the bat... We're going to try to put together a really good foundation so on March 6 we can start really hitting hard."
Garcetti first sounded the alarm about "super PACs" in November, after the Better Way L.A. Committee formed to support James. "Eric Garcetti is the biggest threat to everything these Super PACs support," the campaign said in a fundraising e-mail.
When IBEW Local 18 organized the Working Californians committee to support Wendy Greuel, the Garcetti campaign sent out another fundraising email with the subject line: "We Are About to Be Outspent."
The Garcetti campaign has stuck to that theme, sending another email this week warning "we're up against SuperPACs and special interests that are pouring millions of dollars into this election."
At a debate in Sherman Oaks in January, Garcetti challenged Greuel to take a "people's pledge." Under the terms of the proposal, each candidate would donate half of any outside money spent on their behalf to a charity of their opponent's choice. Greuel called it a gimmick, and refused to go along with it.
Not surprisingly, Garcetti has no intention of taking the pledge unilaterally.
"Eric introduced the 'people's pledge,'" said Jeff Millman, Garcetti's spokesman. "They wouldn't sign it."
Update: Rick Jacobs, co-chair of the committee, says it will be called "Lots of People Who Support Eric Garcetti For Mayor 2013."
"This is not going to be a few billionaires who support this thing," he says.
As for the corrosive influence of unlimited contributions, Jacobs says, "I think there's way too much money in politics. Until the laws are changed we cannot unilaterally disarm. We will do whatever we can do to mobilize people for Eric."