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Caruso donated to politicians opposing abortion in the past. Will that matter to L.A. voters?

Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso fields media questions in February.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Abortion became an unlikely issue in the Los Angeles mayor’s race this week after a draft opinion published Monday by Politico appeared to show that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

In an overwhelmingly Democratic city where reproductive healthcare is readily available, mayoral candidates including Rep. Karen Bass, Council Member Kevin de León, activist Gina Viola, City Atty. Mike Feuer, Council Member Joe Buscaino and real estate developer Rick Caruso quickly issued statements affirming their support for abortion rights.

The issue, however, isn’t whether candidates say they support abortion rights now.

It’s whether Caruso — a former Republican who is now one of the front-runners in the race to replace Mayor Eric Garcetti — supported abortion rights in the past, what changed and how much L.A. voters will care amid a campaign season dominated by discussion of homelessness and public safety.

Even in a potential post-Roe future, the mayor of Los Angeles is unlikely to have much control over reproductive healthcare access in the city, especially as state leaders rush forward on a plan to explicitly protect abortion rights in the California Constitution through a statewide ballot measure.

But with the issue likely to dominate the national conversation in coming months, some of Caruso’s opponents appear eager to make it a focal point in the mayor’s race.

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Caruso swung back Tuesday afternoon, releasing a statement pledging his financial support for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan for a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights.

A draft opinion circulated among Supreme Court justices suggests that earlier this year a majority of them had thrown support behind overturning the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a report in Politico.

Caruso — who has put more than $22 million into his mayoral campaign — said he would be forming a California political action committee to support Newsom’s ballot measure, providing $100,000 in initial support and pledging $1 million toward the ballot measure.

Still, Caruso is taking fire from fellow candidates and the political arm of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles on his past financial support of politicians and causes opposed to abortion.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County Action Fund, the local political arm of the national reproductive healthcare nonprofit, released a letter Tuesday slamming Caruso for his past support of antiabortion politicians and organizations.

The letter calls on Caruso to clearly state and explain in writing his stance on reproductive rights, issue a public apology for “the countless actions you’ve taken that put women’s health and well-being at risk” and participate in a listening session with reproductive rights leaders.

Caruso issued a full-throated defense of Roe hours after the draft opinion was published Monday night, writing in a statement that he was “pro-choice,” that he profoundly disagreed with the draft decision and that his position on the issue “has always been clear.”

As news spread of a leaked draft opinion that indicated justices are prepared to overturn Roe vs. Wade, demonstrators headed to the Supreme Court.

But a 2007 Los Angeles Magazine profile painted a different picture. The story paraphrased Caruso’s views on the subject, based on interviews with him: “He says he opposes abortion in most cases but would support some stem cell research.”

“We’re not going to comment on any particular articles,” Caruso spokesperson Lex Olbrei said when asked for clarification about the Los Angeles Magazine interview. “The bottom line is Rick has always been pro-choice and has always supported Roe vs. Wade.”

Caruso has given extensive financial support to antiabortion politicians, including more than $240,000 to a super PAC supporting John Kasich’s GOP presidential run in 2016; $100,000 to a PAC supporting President George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004; $50,000 to a PAC supporting Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) in 2017; and $4,300 to a committee supporting Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2007.

Caruso contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican party committees between 2003 and 2017. He hosted a fundraiser in 2007 at his Brentwood home for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, around the time Romney said legalized abortion “cheapened the value and sanctity of human life.”

According to the Los Angeles Magazine profile, Caruso also hosted a fundraiser at his home for George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, at which Vice President Dick Cheney — a stalwart opponent of abortion rights — was “the guest of honor.” Bush nominated Samuel A. Alito Jr., the justice who wrote the draft opinion overturning Roe, to the Supreme Court after his reelection.

Fellow mayoral candidate De León said in a statement Tuesday that Caruso’s “track record of support for rabidly antichoice candidates tells a much different story than the one we’ve seen on TV.”

“There’s a phrase in Spanish my grandmother used to say: ‘Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres,’ ” De León said. “Tell me who you spend time with, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Feuer also attacked Caruso’s “antichoice record.”

“Elections are about core values. When it comes to a woman’s right to choose, the choice is stark. I’ve always supported it. Rick Caruso hasn’t. I have L.A. values. Rick Caruso doesn’t,” Feuer said in a statement.

When asked Tuesday morning about Caruso’s prior support of antiabortion politicians, Bass described Los Angeles as “overwhelmingly Democratic” and noted that Caruso had spent most of his life as a Republican.

In some ways, the evening was a retread of the last debate featuring the five candidates, with much of the criticism again trained on businessman Rick Caruso.

“Our city is at a crossroads,” she said. “Which direction are we going to go in? Are we going to go more toward an inclusive future that brings our very diverse city together? Or are we going to resurrect policies of the past that we know have not worked?”

An independent expenditure committee supporting Bass’ candidacy plans to launch a 30-second digital ad Wednesday that attacks Caruso for his past support of the Republican National Committee and politicians such as McConnell and McCarthy. The committee operates independently of Bass’ campaign and cannot legally coordinate with it.

“How did it get this bad? Republican billionaires like Rick Caruso giving away their fortunes to antichoice Republicans and causes,” the ad intones, according to a draft copy shown to The Times ahead of its release. Stark black-and-white images of McCarthy, McConnell and Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh transition to a photo of Caruso with the words “antichoice” over his face.

Times staff writer Benjamin Oreskes contributed to this report.


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