Rick Caruso has spent more than $62 million since entering L.A. mayor's race

Los Angeles, CA - September 21: Rep. Karen Bass, right, speaks as developer Rick Caruso listens during the Los Angeles mayoral debate ahead of the Nov. 8 general election at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. The Los Angeles Times, Fox 11 LA, Univision 34, KPCC, the Skirball Cultural Center, the Los Angeles Urban League and Loyola Marymount University co-host back-to-back debates with the leading candidates in the L.A. mayoral and L.A. County Sheriff races. Los Angeles County Sheriff debate includes Sheriff Alex Villanueva and retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. The evening aims to be informative for Angelenos ahead of the Nov. 8 general election, which will include the runoff for the next mayor and sheriff. The debates will be co-moderated by Times Columnist Erika D. Smith and Fox 11 News Anchor Elex Michaelson. Additionally, Univision morning news anchor Gabriela Teissier will join the moderators during the mayoral debate, and Univision evening news anchor Oswaldo Borraez will join the moderators during the sheriff candidates debate. KPCC criminal justice correspondent Frank Stoltze will contribute as well.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Rick Caruso and Karen Bass at the Sept. 21 L.A. mayoral debate at the Skirball Cultural Center. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Rick Caruso has spent more than $62 million since launching his Los Angeles mayoral bid in February, nearly all of it his own money.

It's a figure that — save for fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg's three successful New York mayoral campaigns — is all but unrivaled in the annals of American local politics.

His opponent, Rep. Karen Bass, has spent just over $6 million since entering the race more than a year ago, meaning the real estate developer has outspent her by a factor of 10.

With a little more than five weeks before the Nov. 8 election, campaign finance disclosures released late Thursday paint a revealing picture of how both campaigns have regrouped since the primary.

Without independent wealth, Bass has little chance of matching Caruso's prodigal war chest. But the congresswoman had what appears to be her most impressive few months of fundraising yet over the summer.

During a roughly 12-week period, Bass took in nearly $2.2 million in contributions and more than $250,000 in city matching funds, according to filings covering July 1 through Sept. 24 submitted to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. She spent just under $1.2 million during that period.

Caruso spent a little more than $21 million during the same time period, according to his filings.

Caruso upended the race in the spring as a first-time candidate who entered the field with little name recognition and inundated the city with ad spending. He succeeded in introducing himself to Angelenos, and his centrist, "clean up L.A." messaging seemed to find a foothold with an electorate frustrated by homelessness and crime.

But Bass finished with a seven-point lead in the June primary. Two weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade — ensuring abortion rights would remain at the center of the conversation through the November election and casting a far less favorable political environment for a former Republican hoping to lead a deep-blue city.

After his unstinting ad spending in the spring, Caruso remained off the airwaves until mid-September, leading many political watchers to wonder through the summer whether Caruso would dump a similar ad blitz in the fall, or pivot to a different tactic.

The answer appears to be both. The TV ads will be plentiful, but his latest campaign filings also reveal a gargantuan investment in field efforts.

These efforts, which accounted for nearly half of the campaign's spending during the most recent filing period, are central to a broader November strategy banking on the campaign's ability to turn out voters who probably sat out the primary and are less likely to cast a general election ballot.

Personal communication, combined with culturally competent outreach, is key to a successful field effort, said Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College.

"Having those folks come out to knock on doors, we can anticipate it will have some effect," Sadhwani said.

The campaign has spent nearly $10 million on its canvassing program over the last few months, according to filings covering July 1 through Sept. 24. Caruso’s most visible areas of focus since the primary have been with Latino voters, Asian American voters and voters in the San Fernando Valley.

Caruso is slated to spend at least $20 million on TV advertising through the November election, according to data from media tracking firm AdImpact. Of that planned total reservation, Caruso spent about $5.5 million on TV airtime during this filing period, in the form of payments to TV stations made by his media planner.

Building a field effort is more uphill for an outsider like Caruso, L.A.-based political consultant Mike Murphy said, because he can't tap into the union infrastructure that will probably aid Bass. Murphy supports Caruso and has worked for him previously.

Caruso gets "criticized for the spend, but it also is a form of freedom. Which makes it easier to be the change candidate," Murphy said.

Bass has been heavily favored by local labor groups during the campaign, and several are likely to provide volunteer support in the weeks ahead.

"Karen Bass has always fought for the average worker, not just the rich and big corporations," Pete Rodriguez, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, said recently.

The union — one of several outside groups backing Bass — plans to spend more than $1 million on Spanish-language TV advertising to support her. Union members are also phone-banking and door-knocking for Bass in a volunteer capacity.

Campaign money from the primary can't carry over to the general, meaning Bass essentially had to start from scratch on June 8, the day after the primary. Fundraising appears to have been one of her primary focuses during the summer months.

More than $200,000 — nearly a fifth of Bass' spending during this period — went to fundraiser Stephanie Daily Smith's Daily Consulting. The prominent Democratic fundraiser joined the Bass campaign after the primary.

Donors who maxed out to Bass during this period include Steven Spielberg, former Meta Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Emily's List President Laphonza Butler, businessman Danny Bakewell, Washington, D.C., lobbyist Heather Podesta, filmmaker Barry Jenkins and Showtime Chief Executive David Nevins.

In a testament to the national focus on the race to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti, the congresswoman's summer fundraising included stops in New Orleans, Atlanta and Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, according to finance disclosures and social media posts.

Caruso took in about $152,000 in donations during this same period and put more than $21 million of his own money into his campaign, bringing the total he has put into his campaign since February to more than $61 million — representing nearly all of his total spending.

Outside spending will also continue to play a potent role in the race. Bass will be aided by a number of independent expenditure committees, including Communities United for Bass for LA Mayor 2022. That political action committee, whose major funders include unions and Hollywood donors, took in more than $700,000 during the filing period and spent several hundred thousand on a digital attack ad characterizing Caruso as a liar.

A new pro-Bass PAC led by the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters took in more than $2 million in contributions in recent weeks.

The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor also started its own committee to support Bass, with six-figure donations from the labor federation and SEIU Local 2015, which represents long-term caregivers.

These outside groups are not subject to campaign finance regulations that limit individual donations to candidates to $1,500 per cycle, making it easier for them to raise large sums of money.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.