A few weeks into his Los Angeles City Council run, Gordon Teuber received an unexpected gift: $40,000, courtesy of the put-upon L.A. taxpayer.
“I call it my lifeline,” Teuber says. “Without it, I'd be even more overwhelmed by the big-dollar competition.”
A grand experiment is taking place in Los Angeles' City Council District 15. The Nov. 8 special election to replace now-Congresswoman Janice Hahn suddenly is being doused with hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money.
It's all because of a little-publicized move by the City Council to triple the matching funds the candidates receive. Once a candidate raises $25,000 (in $250 bite-size chunks), he or she then receives $3 for each $1 raised from an individual (contributions made by businesses aren't matched).
“There are a number of candidates who are not your traditionally connected, insider candidates who are finding themselves to be viable,” says Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, which lobbied for the new law.
So far, five candidates have qualified for the public matching funds: Teuber, a former aide to Hahn; ex-councilman-turned-lobbyist Rudy Svorinich; Los Angeles Police Department officer Joe Buscaino; Assemblyman Warren Furutani; and Pat McOsker, former head of the firemen's union.
Not everyone is thrilled with the new expenditures from City Hall coffers.
“I think it's outrageous,” says Rick Taylor, a longtime political consultant working for candidate Jayme Wilson. “I don't get [it], at a time when the city is facing a $200 million deficit.”
“Unlike Jayme Wilson, I can't write a check for $50,000,” responds Teuber, a relatively rare Republican running for the nominally nonpartisan but in truth heavily Democratic City Council. “I think he's a nice guy, but it shouldn't just be for wealthy people to win public office.”
The new campaign-finance rule is helping fuel a blizzard of campaign literature in the San Pedro and harbor areas.
“I think I got five mailers today,” says Doug Epperhart of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. “It's insane. I wish I was in the printing business.”
A runoff election is widely assumed, since none of the CD 15 candidates seems to have enough appeal to win outright on Nov. 3 by getting 50 percent plus one vote.
“I have a funny feeling that the difference between second, third and fourth place is gonna be a few hundred votes,” Epperhart says. Only the top two vote-getters move on to a runoff.
Underscoring this point was the United Teachers Los Angeles' scattershot endorsement of not one but three candidates — Buscaino, Furutani and McOsker — all dubbed “education-friendly candidates.”
Noticeably absent from UTLA's perhaps cynical trio of endorsements was Svorinich.
In fact, Svorinich has been noticeably absent from many debates and candidates' forums, including one held by the Harbor Alliance of Neighborhood Councils that drew roughly 300 people.
Svorinich did not respond to requests for comment. But James Preston Allen, publisher of Random Lengths News, an alternative newspaper in the harbor area, says, “Rudy is basically running so that he can get his two years to qualify for pension.”
The L.A. City Council is the highest paid in the United States — controversially, they earn more than members of Congress, at $178,789 a year. Each of the 15 gets a fat pension for holding a government job for 10 years. Former council members who were termed out after eight years have begun eyeing a third — and lucrative — term.
Allen quips: “Just what the city needs, another mouth to feed.”