Contributions to contentious L.A. County D.A.'s race reveal divisions in support, Gascón trailing behind rivals

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For the record:
3:23 p.m. Feb. 27, 2024: The L.A. County Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys contributed $1,500 each to several candidates. An earlier version of this story doubled the total for Deputy Dist. Atty. Maria Ramirez.

In one of the most crowded primary races for Los Angeles County district attorney in the history of the office, 12 candidates have raised a combined $6.8 million in campaign contributions.

Nathan Hochman, who previously ran for state attorney general as a Republican, is leading the pack and has raised more than double the amount of his next closest rival, former federal prosecutor Jeff Chemerinsky.

That leaves incumbent George Gascón trailing behind in fundraising as he vies for reelection, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance filings. The county registrar publishes candidate and outside committee disclosures on its website as the forms are processed. The Times reviewed records available through Feb. 29 for this story.

Days before the California primary, Gascón has raised $437,000.

For comparison, preelection filings ahead of the 2020 primary showed Gascón had raised $341,000 in his candidate committee, though he also had the support of about $2.5 million from outside committees.

Fewer than 5,000 people, organizations and political action committees account for the funds raised. Most back a single candidate, but around 100 have given to more than one candidate. Among those splitting their support, more than half chose to include Deputy Dist. Atty. Eric Siddall in their contributions.

Criminal justice reformers and unions are backing Gascón

Many of the big criminal justice reform donors that propelled Gascón to victory in 2020 are still backing him. Together, Patty Quillin, a philanthropist and the wife of Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings; Quinn Delaney, founder of an Oakland-based decriminalization organization; Elizabeth Simons, chair of the Marshall Project Board; and Kaitlyn Krieger, co-founder of a criminal justice reform organization, spent $3.7 million to elect Gascón in 2020.

And they are all supporting his reelection.

Other advocacy-minded donors include Progressive Era PAC and Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm. Anne Devereux-Mills, who worked to pass three-strikes reform in California, and Anne Rosenbaum Irwin, founder of Smart Justice California, both contributed to his first race and have given to his reelection campaign.

He has also received contributions from California’s long-term caregivers union, Service Employees International Union Local 2015, Foremen's Union Local 94 Political Action Fund, Laborers' Local 300 and the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Gascón planned sweeping reform-minded changes from the moment he was sworn in, including barring prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, ending the practice of trying juveniles as adults, ending cash bail, and ending the use of sentencing enhancements. Nearly all of the challengers to Gascón have said they would reverse some of the changes that he enacted on the first day in office.

Read more: In the crowded race for D.A., who can break out of the pack to challenge George Gascón?

D.A.'s office, law enforcement and bail bond companies divide support among candidates

Since becoming district attorney, Gascón has been waging a battle with members of his own office. Now his internal opposition has largely split their support among Deputy Dist. Atty. Maria Ramirez, Deputy Dist. Atty. John McKinney, Deputy Dist. Atty. Jonathan Hatami and Siddall.

McKinney has received the most support from within the D.A.’s office with nearly $52,000 in contributions from 100 employees. Nearly 200 members of the district attorney's staff contributed to a candidate other than Gascón, who himself received only two contributions. The office employs nearly 1,000 attorneys.

The L.A. County Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, the union representing rank-and-file prosecutors under Gascón, endorsed its immediate past vice president, Siddall, who served on their board of directors for 10 years. The union contributed $7,500 to his candidate committee. The group also donated $1,500 each to Ramirez, McKinney and Hatami. The association has had a strained relationship with Gascón.

So far, contributions from police officers and other members of law enforcement have been low, totaling about $29,000. The Glendale Police Officers Assn. PAC contributed to L.A. County Superior Court Judge Debra Archuleta, Hatami and Ramirez. The Burbank Police Officers Assn. endorsed and gave to Archuleta. The El Monte Police Officers Assn. PAC gave to Hatami, who worked in the area.

In the 2020 race, police organizations including the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., the Los Angeles Police Protective League and the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California spent millions to support his opponent, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey. These organizations have not yet given to any candidate’s campaign this year.

Gascón directed his prosecutors to no longer request cash bail in any misdemeanor crimes and nonviolent felony offenses, a policy that was recently adopted by the Los Angeles County Superior Court, though it is currently facing a lawsuit.

Hatami has been an outspoken opponent of Gascón’s broad no-bail policy and said that he would push for no bail in all nonviolent misdemeanors and for bail in all felonies and violent misdemeanors. Hatami has received about $17,000 from bail bond companies and their employees.

Real estate and finance are backing Hochman

As in his 2022 campaign for California attorney general against Rob Bonta, Hochman has drawn financial support from real estate and finance interests. More than 120 people working in the real estate industry contributed $831,000 to Hochman. About 60 wealth management investors and bankers contributed $118,000 combined.

Gerald Marcil, a Republican megadonor and large property owner, is by far the biggest supporter of Hochman. With his own contributions, as well as from his family and his companies, Marcil has funneled nearly $550,000 into the committees supporting Hochman. He is also a significant opponent of Gascón. Marcil spent $1.3 million on Gascón's recall campaign and contributed to Hochman’s attorney general campaign.

Other industry donors include Bradley Mindlin, founder of real estate investment firm Oro Capital Advisors, and his wife, Lisa Mindlin, who have together contributed $44,000. Jeffrey A. Kaplan, a lawyer and mobile home park owner, and his wife, Tracy Kaplan, gave $12,000 combined. Real estate development company owners Bryan, Marc and Marshall Ezralow gave a combined $19,000.

The real estate investment industry also played a role in the effort to recall Gascón, but some of the district attorney's biggest opponents in the field have yet to back a rival. Geoffrey Palmer, a billionaire real estate developer and major Republican donor, spent $2.2 million on the Gascón recall attempt and $116,000 to support Hochman’s run for attorney general.

Douglas Emmett Properties, a real estate investment firm co-founded and chaired by Dan Emmett and one of the biggest Southern California office building owners, spent nearly $580,000 on the recall effort and $100,000 on Hochman’s attorney general run.

Neither has contributed to a candidate in this cycle.

Real estate developer and former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso gave $7,500 to both Siddall and Chemerinsky. Caruso had previously endorsed the effort to recall Gascón and donated $45,000 to support his opponent, Lacey. Caruso had also hosted a fundraiser ahead of the election in 2020 to support Gascón.

Chemerinsky’s growing support 

More than one-third of Chemerinsky’s support has come from working lawyers. Roughly 380 attorneys across Southern California from a wide range of firms and public agencies have donated more than $374,000 in total to his campaign.

Chemerinsky’s father, Erwin, a well-respected legal scholar and dean of Berkeley Law, gave $7,500, the maximum contribution to a candidate committee. Overall, Jeff Chemerinsky has received $30,000 from dozens of contributions from law professors and others in the academic community, more than any other candidate.

His largest contributor is Charlene Marsh of Dallas, who gave a combined $42,500.

Many of Gascón’s big supporters remain largely quiet

In Gascón’s 2020 election campaign and the recall attempt against him, a significant portion of the millions raised for Gascón was from big-dollar donors. So far, most of these individuals have contributed just a fraction of their previous donations or not at all.

George Soros, a Democratic megadonor and founder of Open Society Foundations, spent $2.25 million on Gascón's previous November race.

Steven Robinson, owner of a craft brewery in Anaheim and husband of Janet Crown, a member of the billionaire Chicago-based Crown family, funneled nearly $100,000 into the effort to recall Gascón. He and Crown have spent $12,000 to support Siddall and contributed $3,000 to Hochman.

Though Gascón is trailing in fundraising, he is expected to make it through the primary, polling shows.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.