An outside campaign trying to catapult Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa into second place in the California governor's race has spent more money than any other independent committee supporting a gubernatorial candidate in the past two decades, according to a new analysis by MapLight, a nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics.
The campaign is backed by billionaire charter schools supporters, including Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who have raised $17.5 million to support Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor.
Villaraigosa is trailing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the clear front-runner, in both fundraising and polls, and he's behind Republican John Cox in the tight race for second place.
Less than two weeks remain before voters decide who the top two vote-getters will be to advance to the November general election.
The pro-charter schools committee, called Families & Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor 2018, has spent roughly $14.5 million, including on television advertisements and mailers, to support Villaraigosa, and another $1.1 million opposing Cox, the leading Republican in the race. Some of the advertisements have been misleading.
It's the most any independent committee, forbidden from coordinating with candidates, has spent in a California governor's race since online data became available in 2001, MapLight found. It is likely the largest amount of money spent in California history by an outside group on a candidate for governor, said Garry South, a Democratic strategist.
"I think this is definitely a record," South said. "The real question is whether it came too late. To maximize the practical value of this kind of money, it should have started two or three months ago."
Historically, only two other independent expenditure committees have come close to spending what charter schools advocates have spent on Villaraigosa.
Sacramento real estate developer Angelo Tsakopoulos in 2006 spent nearly $10 million on an outside campaign supporting former state Treasurer Phil Angelides in his unsuccessful bid for governor.
In 2010, an independent committee backed by the Service Employees International Union spent more than $8 million supporting Gov. Jerry Brown when he was running against billionaire businesswoman Meg Whitman, according to the MapLight analysis.