Lack of competition hasn’t stopped five sitting Los Angeles City Council members from raising more than $750,000 before the March6 election. Council members Wendy Greuel, Herb Wesson and Greig Smith have collected more than $200,000 each in contributions despite no competing candidates on the ballot. Also running unopposed, Councilman Tom LaBonge has raised $150,000 and Councilman Bernard Parks has raised $80,000. With virtually a guaranteed win, why raise so much money? “It’s a way to communicate with my 250,000 constituents without using tax dollars,” said East Valley Councilwoman Greuel, who has received $226,000. Councilman LaBonge agreed. “It’s real important to get a message out to everyone in the district on what we’ve been doing.” Proponents of campaign finance reform said politicians raise so much money simply because they can – and because private donors are eager to write checks. But they said that with voters already troubled by the influence of money and special interests in politics, the flow of cash in uncontested races only heightens the concern. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch. The money is coming from somewhere, and it’s coming from somewhere for a reason,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the California Clean Money Campaign. “When campaign dollars are coming from business interests, it’s an investment they make in expectation of a payoff,” such as a government contract, an easier time getting a permit or a more receptive leader, she said. This year’s incumbent City Council candidates are no different from previous years, when unchallenged elected officials raised more than $300,000 per person. Last fall, Los Angeles voters passed PropositionR, which sought to weaken the influence of contributions and lobbyists on the City Council by lengthening term limits and restricting lobbyist campaign contributions. But lobbyists can still – and do – host fundraising events for incumbents. Lobbyists sat on the host committee for two fundraisers for Councilman Herb Wesson, who represents Central Los Angeles and is running unopposed on the ballot, though there are two write-in candidates vying for the job. He has raised $202,000 for his re-election, which will pay to elevate his profile in the district and help his ambition to get elected to the Board of Supervisors. “Ideally, when you’re running unopposed, you would fundraise less or just enough to get your name out there,” said Steve Levin, political reform project manager with the Center for Governmental Studies. But, Levin added, elected officials frequently use current campaigns to propel them to future elections. “It’s usually money that’s used to get their name out there. It could be that they have high political ambitions,” he said, citing City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who ran for a second term unopposed in 2005 but still raised nearly $1.4million. The money bought television advertisements, which helped raise his profile for his run for California attorney general. But some incumbents said they raise money early just in case they do have a challenger – or to scare off potential challengers. North Valley Councilman Greig Smith said he held fundraisers early last year and raised more than $200,000 before the November candidate filing deadline. “There’s an old axiom: You show your strength through raising money. “We have not done any active fundraising since November, and we’re now closing down the account.” He said he plans to pay off campaign debts, fill his officeholder account ($75,000 can be transferred from campaign funds to officeholder funds), and then return contributions or donate them to charity, depending on what contributors want. Other unchallenged incumbents said they raise money and mail out campaign literature – which can cost about $20,000 to $30,000 for brochures delivered to voters’ homes – in place of the normal correspondence they send out during the year. City law prohibits elected officials from spending officeholder funds for promotional mass mailings within a year before their re-election. Councilwoman Greuel said she’s using her money for some mailers to constituents, and she plans to publish and distribute a Valley transportation map showing all the transit routes. There are no challengers to Greuel on the ballot, although Sunland-Tujunga resident David Cain is running as a write-in candidate. As for concerns about the influence of donors, Greuel said she thinks transparency and reporting helps. “We really try to be careful. But a $500 contribution does not speak louder than 10 people in my district who are concerned about something.” [email protected] (213) 978-0390 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!