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'Super PAC' in mayor's race draws money from powerful GOP donor

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James

The "super PAC" formed to support the Los Angeles mayoral bid of Republican candidate Kevin James brought in just $200,000 last year, according to disclosure forms filed with city officials Thursday. But it ushered into the orbit of L.A. city politics one of the Republican Party’s most prominent super PAC donors — Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons.

Republican ad man Fred Davis formed the Better Way LA committee last year to help James, a former prosecutor and radio talk show host, raise his profile at a time when he was trailing far behind in the fundraising efforts of the top three mayoral candidates: former City Council President Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilwoman Jan Perry.

When the committee was formed in November, Davis told The Times that the committee had already raised half a million dollars and hoped to bring in at least $3.5 million. But Thursday’s filings with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission show that Davis’ committee did not actually collect any money until mid-December.

The two $100,000 contributions came from Simmons and Chicago-based Henry Crown & Co., a private investment group with holdings in areas that include transportation, oil and gas, home furnishings, and resort properties, according to Bloomberg.

Simmons is the chief executive of Contran Corp., who spent millions of dollars in the effort to defeat President Obama through a network of super PACs -- independent political organizations that can collect massive sums of money to influence elections.

That $100,000 contribution was a small one for Simmons, whose net worth of $7.1 billion made him No. 49 on the Forbes 400 list. Simmons, along with his wife, Annette, and his Contran Corp. donated $20.5 million to American Crossroads, the super PAC founded by Karl Rove -- which made him one of the organization’s top backers.

He also was an early and generous donor to Restore our Future, the super PAC devoted to electing Obama’s Republican rival, Mitt Romney.

In their size and scope, Simmons’ 2012 contributions rivaled those of Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson, who almost single-handedly kept the presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich afloat for months in early 2012 through the super PAC known as Winning Our Future -- much to the chagrin of the Romney campaign.

Davis could not immediately be reached to discuss the group’s fundraising efforts on James’ behalf and whether the super PAC has had more success in drawing donors since the end of the 2012 filing period.

But the size of Simmons’ initial contribution is not necessarily indicative of a lack of interest in the L.A. race. Simmons’ first contributions to the pro-Romney super PAC in the first three months of 2012 were also in $100,000 increments. Ultimately, he donated $2.3 million to the Restore Our Future committee alone.

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-- Maeve Reston

Photo: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James at a debate in September. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

 
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