January 25, 2013 | 10:29am
Update below: IBEW starts spending on Wendy Greuel.
Harold Simmons, the conservative Texas billionaire, has kicked in another $500,000 to back Republican candidate Kevin James, making him by far the biggest spender thus far in the L.A. mayor's race.
Simmons is known as a lavish supporter of conservative causes. During the presidential election, he gave more than $25 million to Republican super PACs. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last year, he called President Obama
a "socialist" and "the most dangerous American alive."
So far, Simmons has given $600,000 to the Better Way L.A. committee. Republican consultant Fred Davis organized the committee to back James' mayoral campaign, and has raised $700,000 total -- well short of its $4 million goal.
Simmons lives in Dallas and has a home in Montecito. He owns Contran Corp., a chemical company. In 2004, Simmons gave $3 million to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran ads attacking Sen. John Kerry's military service. Simmons also gave millions to a group in 2008 than ran ads linking Obama to Weather Underground radical William Ayers.
It's not clear that Simmons has much interest in the particulars of L.A. politics. Davis has pitched the James campaign to conservative donors as an opportunity to restore the Republican brand in California.
"My guess is that Harold Simmons would like to see Los Angeles improving its financial situation," said Jeff Corless, James' spokesman.
Corless also took a shot at Controller Wendy Greuel, who is receiving support from the IBEW, which represents employees of the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
"A private citizen supporting a candidate is not an issue compared to the DWP union directly supporting Wendy after she has voted for their pay increases and their pension benefit enhancements," Corless said.
At a debate on Thursday night, Greuel was asked about whether the IBEW support would influence her decisions as mayor.
"I've been an independent city controller," she said. "I've demonstrated that I'm an independent person, and no matter what I'll continue to do that."
The Better Way L.A. committee is currently producing TV ads. The primary will be held on March 5. If Simmons is willing to keep spending, the committee could get enough airtime to put James in contention for the May runoff.
Update: IBEW Local 18 has put $250,000 into a committee backing Wendy Greuel. That's an initial ante. Presumably they'll spend a lot more before it's all said and done.
Update 2: The L.A. County Democratic Party is taking note of Simmons' interest in the race. Here's a statement from Eric Bauman, chair of the county party:
The Republicans are at it again: trying to buy another public office and dupe voters. This time, Harold Simmons, a Texas billionaire, is attempting to buy the Los Angeles Mayor's Office with hundreds of thousands of out-of-state dollars. This is the same Harold Simmons who gave millions to the 'Swift Boat Veterans for Truth' campaign that falsely attacked John Kerry during his presidential campaign and also spent millions to attack President Obama.
Time and again, Californians have seen the schemes of hyper-right-wing billionaires flooding our state with millions of dollars to try to buy public offices, from failed CEOs Meg 'Queen Meg' Whitman and Carly Fiorina to today's Republican mayoral candidate Kevin James, a hyperbolic right-wing radio show host who is struggling to resonate with voters in Los Angeles and hide his out-of-touch ultra conservative rhetoric.
Let me be perfectly clear, Los Angeles is a Deep Blue City and is not for sale. We urge all Angelenos to reject Republican Kevin James and his right-wing friend's attempt to buy the Mayor's Office. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party is committed to work aggressively to expose James for the hard-right-extremist that he is.