The Coast News Group
The San Diego County Registrar of Voters Office in Kearny Mesa, May 30, 2014. Photo Michael Schuerman

Outside spending ramps up as Tuesday’s election approaches

REGION — With the election Tuesday, groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in San Diego County’s most competitive races.

Political action committees can spend unlimited amounts of money from anywhere in the country to influence local elections.

These groups are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates’ campaigns. And they’re spending big in three races: the 49th Congressional District, county district attorney and county Board of Supervisors District 4.

Will that outside money make a difference in swaying voters? Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance expert and professor at Loyola Law School, said the donors certainly think so.

“Even a billionaire doesn’t like to just go out to the street and set money on fire,” Levinson said. “They want to spend because they think it can make a difference.”

The outside spending can also be a good guide for voters. By paying attention to who’s putting their money behind the candidates, voters can see who might stand to gain from a certain politician being in office.

“I think arguably it’s a lot more useful than an endorsement, for the voters, because they can look to see who’s really willing to put their money where their mouth is,” Levinson said.

 49th congressional race

The 49th District is considered one of the most contested congressional races in the nation this year, after Republican Darrell Issa decided not to seek a ninth term. Democrats hope to flip the seat by putting their money behind four candidates: retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, environmental lawyer Mike Levin, business owner Paul Kerr and former nonprofit CEO Sara Jacobs.

Jacobs has gotten the most outside help in the race — a group called Women Vote! has spent $2.3 million to support her campaign. As a candidate, Jacobs has raised $2.2 million, including almost $1.6 million of her own money.

Women Vote! is a super PAC that has spent more than $4.5 million this election cycle supporting female Democratic candidates for Congress who support abortion rights. The PAC has received at least $250,000 in donations from billionaire and Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, Sara Jacobs’ grandfather.

Meanwhile, $1.8 million has been spent by outside groups to oppose Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside. The groups have spent the money on commercials, door hangers, mailers and other negative ad campaigns.

Survey USA poll conducted in April for the Union-Tribune and 10News showed Chavez leads the other candidates with 16 percent of the vote. Outside groups have spent more than $408,000 to support him, and he has raised $233,000 for his campaign.

The $279,000 in outside spending supporting Levin has come from retired Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield, who has spent millions of dollars in California’s political races since 2014.

In total, candidates in the 49th District have raised more than $11 million and seen more than $5.8 million in outside spending.

Note: Only candidates who raised $200,000 or more are included. The eight highest-spending candidates in the 49th Congressional District have raised almost $11.2 million. PACs have spent $3.8 million supporting six of the candidates. Data current as of May 31, 2018.

District attorney’s race

The DA’s race has turned into a spending war between four groups supporting interim District Attorney Summer Stephan and four other groups backing Deputy Public Defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright.

Stephan has raised $561,000 for her campaign and received $835,000 in support from outside groups. Most of her outside help has come from the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association, which has spent $444,000 supporting her and another $89,000 on commercials opposing Jones-Wright.

Jones-Wright has raised $242,000 and received $2.2 million in support from outside groups. Most of the outside spending for her has come from the California Justice & Public Safety PAC, a group funded by billionaire New York investor George Soros. The PAC has spent more than $2 million on commercials, digital ads and canvassing. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Wednesday that the Soros-funded PAC had canceled all of its remaining commercial airtime on her behalf.

poll conducted this week by Survey USA for the Union-Tribune and 10News shows Stephan with a 20-point lead over Jones-Wright — 45 percent to 25 percent, with the rest undecided.

San Diego County District Attorney Money Race
The two San Diego County district attorney candidates have raised almost $804,000. PACs also have spent more than $3.2 million on the race. Data current as of May 31, 2018. Data by Jill Castellano |

4th District Board of Supervisors race

The race to replace termed-out Republican Supervisor Ron Roberts has turned into an expensive battle between two opposing labor-backed PACs.

Elect Lori Saldaña, a PAC sponsored by the San Diego Working Families Council labor association has spent about $167,700 supporting Saldaña, a Democrat. The group has also spent almost $129,400 opposing the candidacy of Democrat Nathan Fletcher.

A second labor-backed group, San Diegans Opposed to Hypocrisy & Lori Saldaña, has spent about $241,800 opposing her.

Fletcher and Saldaña are both former Assembly members and failed mayoral candidates. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in March that disagreement over which candidate to back in the race resulted in a high-profile split among San Diego labor groups.

Fletcher has also been opposed by $338,800 in spending from a PAC sponsored by the conservative Lincoln Club.

Fletcher has faced the most opposing outside money, but he’s also been the most successful at fundraising with more than $487,000. The Voice of San Diego also reported last week that he’s getting substantial help from the San Diego County Democratic Party. An inewsource analysis shows the party has spent more than $797,000 since March on his behalf.

Saldaña has raised about $38,000.

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