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.