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Council District 15: Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?

December 31, 2011 |  7:00 am

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Most of City Council candidate Joe Buscaino's campaign donations have come from within the 15th District, where he's running, and of those, the vast majority have come from San Pedro. His opponent, Warren Furutani, has raised only a tiny fraction of his funds from within the district. A large segment of his money comes from Asian American donors elsewhere in Los Angeles, California and around the nation.

Of Buscaino's 980 contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations, 613, or 62.6%, come from the 15th District, according to an analysis of records filed with the City Ethics Commission for the election that took place Nov. 8, plus additional donations through Dec. 3 for the Jan. 17 runoff.

Those donations accounted for $162,031.60, or 56.8% of Buscaino's total $285,271.60. San Pedro accounted for 95% of the in-district money.That comes to $153,356.60, or 53.8% of Buscaino's total, from San Pedro.

The analysis classified donations by Zip Code. Some donors may have given twice: once, up to the $500 limit for the primary, followed by a second contribution up to the same amount for the runoff (more properly known as the general election). The reported value of in-kind donations was considered along with monetary contributions.

The next contribution report, covering most of December, is due Thursday.

The 15th District includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Wattsand an adjacent portion of South Los Angeles. But for Buscaino, San Pedro is where the money is. Only 2.7% of his contributors, accounting for $8,675 or 3% of money raised, come from non-San Pedro portions of the district.

Buscaino has lived his entire life in San Pedro, and until the campaign patrolled that harbor-area community for the Los Angeles Police Department as a senior lead officer -- a sort of community liaison and trouble-shooter. All City Council District 15 representatives going back at least to World War II have been San Pedro residents.

San Pedro in particular and the district in general have been less generous to Furutani, who lives in Harbor Gateway, near Gardena. He took in 29 donations, amounting to $8,525, from the district in which he is running. That's a mere 2.6% of his total money raised so far. San Pedro accounts for 14 donations amounting to $4,325, or just $1.3% of his total.

Ninety-seven percent of Furutani's 1,056 donations, accounting for 97.4% of the money he has raised, comes from outside the 15th District.

Who are these contributors, and why are they giving? A scan of the names hints at one answer -- and serves as a reminder of the startling fact that Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city and the home of a huge Asian population, has had only one Asian American elected official. And that official, Councilman Mike Woo, left office nearly 19 years ago (Woo was defeated in a 1993 run for mayor; he currently is a member of the city Planning Commission).

Los Angeles, which was home to the nation's largest community of Japanese immigrants and first-generation Japanese Americans before World War II, and which is well known for Little Tokyo and Nisei week and continues to have a large number of residents with Japanese ancestry, has never elected a Japanese American councilman. Small neighboring cities have, but not L.A. itself.

Asian Americans have mobilized to help Furutani become the first.

Of course, it's impossible to know for certain how many contributors are of Japanese descent, or how many are Asian at all. There is no race or ethnicity category for donation records. Scanning a list of contributors and picking out the Asian names is problematic. Are Lee, Young and Kim Asian names or English names? Birth names or married names? And of course, there is no way to know if a contributor gave money mostly because of racial identity or for any of the many other reasons that people donate to candidates. Some may have given because they are Furutani's colleagues in the Legislature or are candidates for other office, part of a phenomenon noted in a previous post.

Some readers might consider it inappropriate to even attempt to tally people by race or name. Yet it's an important part of Furutani's story. So I gave it a shot.

Of the 1,056 donors outside the 15th District, 557 have either Asian-sounding names or are businesses or organizations that directly express an Asian identity. That accounts for $147,119.80, or a huge 44.1% of the money Furutani has raised so far for the primary and the general elections. Of that, Japanese-sounding names account for $84,815.80, or 25.5% of his fundraising total.

Japanese American donors include high-ranking county officials, four Los Angeles Superior Court judges and one Fresno judge.

In addition to money they raise themselves, the candidates can use matching funds provided by the city and get the benefit of independent expenditure campaigns by outside groups. More on those in a future post.

MORE FROM THIS SERIES:

Voting now underway

The Capitol contingent

Buscaino and the council cop bloc

 --Robert Greene

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

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