On Sept. 12, 2022, Culver Studios made a $175,000 donation to the Alliance for Culver City to Support the Election of Denice Renteria and Dan O’Brien for City Council 2022. Not quite a pebble dropped in a pond – more of a boulder – but the ripples have been spreading since then.
With ballots poised to arrive in the mail in less than a week, how this money is being spent has yet to show up on the radar. Both O’Brien and Renteria claim to be as surprised as everyone else.
With 29,471 registered voters in Culver City, 19,471 voted in the 2022 primary election, leaving an exact 10,000 voters missing. If those voters show up for the general election, that is more than enough to tip the scales when contests are frequently decided by less than 50 votes.
City Council contests in the past have had budgets well under $30,000 – frequently far less than that – and have traditionally been raised from local supporters. Certainly the Culver City Chamber of Commerce and the Culver City Democratic Club have often co-ordinated and targeted funds for both council and school board races. The last election, under the cloud of pandemic, was not just off cycle but unique with all outreach online and personal contact prohibited; the cost of a zoom call barely compares to the cost of renting a venue and hiring a caterer. But an amount this large is historic.
Statements from Rentieria and O’Brien both claim that the political action committee is not working with the candidates they are investing in so heavily. Denice Renteria responded to our request for a statement, saying “I became aware of the existence of this independent expenditure when papers were filed and became available online. To my recollection, I don’t believe I have ever spoken to a representative of the Culver Studios. They appear to be one of several independent expenditures that have become active in this campaign season on behalf of various candidates.”
Dan O’Brien offered “I have no connection with the PAC as candidates cannot coordinate or influence what any PAC does. I found out about the PAC just like everyone else, over social media. I believe we need strong campaign finance reform laws in Culver [City] and I look forward to finding ways to strengthen our local democracy once elected to the City Council.”
The problem of pernicious influence began back in May of 2022, when Protect Culver City sent out a flyer endorsing O’Brien and Renteria. This organization gained both stature and infamy in the last election cycle; they arrived on the scene after the group Protect Culver City Renters had successfully lobbied the council for rent control. Protect Culver City hired to people to collect signatures for a petition ‘about rent control,” and many signed without understanding it was about repealing the rent control ordinance, not supporting it. The ruse worked well enough for the measure to qualify for the ballot, where it was defeated by a large margin.
Both Renteria and O’Brien may be feeling that with friends like these, who needs enemies? But Culver Studios and Protect Culver City don’t seem to be interested in consent.
I understood from an online commenter that this cash contribution was not the only resources Hackman Capital Partners put into the council race. There was a 496 posted (dated 9/28) that listed “in kind” contributions of $40,783.13. My question is: would that be in addition to the $175,000 used to support/create the “Alliance for Culver City to Support the Election of Denice Renteria and Dan O’Brien for City Council 2022”?
If so the total would be $215,783.13. That is staggering.
Are we all just playthings in some billionaire’s game?
Thanks for sharing this information with the public.
I have (not this cycle) been the campaign treasurer for 12 different City Council, School Board, and ballot measure races. It’s been a while since $30,000 supports a winning candidate in a City Council race. No thanks to the SCOTUS and Citizens United, the ship sailed quite some time ago in having both home grown and outside border Political Action Committees spending to influence elections here. It is correct to note that PACs are not allowed to coordinate with the candidate’s committee. In practice, it’s unclear exactly how this can be adequately monitored. I can tell you I have been fielding calls from the PACs who wish to be totally transparent in how to properly label their involvement with forthcoming political communication and education. And while you have titillated readers with the headline grab numbers, I trust as a journalist you will be giving equal “ink” to PAC support to other candidates in the City Council races. I’d be happy to tell you where you can find it and everything over $1,000 during this time must be reported out within 24 hours, per the Fair Political Practices Commission rules.
In response to Crystal Alexander:
No other PAC is even close to the order of magnitude of The Culver Studios PAC money. Let’s spill ink in proportion to the money being spent.
And some of us see a big difference between a huge company spending money on an election with the hope of bigger profits vs. real people, our neighbors, spending money on an election with the hope of a better city for everyone.
Ms. Kent and fellow progressives started “Culver City Forward” in 2019 with an opening contribution of $300,000 from Hackman and Associates. They hired Thomas Small to be president of that private/public venture and Kellv Kent to be treasurer (per state filing requirements). They didn’t complain then about “evil Hackman money”just 3 years ago. And BTW I was signatory on Measure B which despite enormous (and frequently erroneous) anti-publicity acquired 45% of the vote.
I’ve never met Mr. Hackman, and now I hope I never do. His donation is a cynical, greedy indulgence that shows his self-interest and lack of respect for our community.
And…..another filing yesterday 10/26 for again $175,000 from “the Culver Studios Owner LLC” to the Alliance for Culver City to Support The Election Of Denice Renteria and Dan O’Brien.
And….. Again today 10/27 for (hard to read on the copy I received) but I believe $80,000
SUM TOTAL as of today $430,000! (Mailings, mailings, mailings. Many trees are getting cut down for this election)
The idea that developers can buy an election by pouring money into campaigns in quantities tenfold above what anyone has ever done before is scary. It moves the power of our city into the hands of the highest bidder. It is not only money that wins elections—but it makes a BIG difference.