Miguel Santiago. Image provided by Santiago campaign.

A well-connected politician, Miguel Santiago was once known as an ally to incumbent Kevin de León, a relationship he appears to have abandoned now that he is challenging de León’s re-election bid. 

Santiago announced his candidacy a few months after the leak of tapes recorded de León being part of a conversation about rigging the political process at the Los Angeles Federation of Labor offices.

Santiago lives in Boyle Heights and talked to Boyle Heights Beat about his immigrant family origins, and how his mother worked as a maid, while his father was a janitor. He also told the publication he likes to go jogging around Evergreen Cemetery. 

Santiago took a traditional political path, including graduating from UCLA, serving on the Los Angeles Community College Board of Trustees, and getting elected to the 54th Assembly District seat in 2014.

You can also find a video statement (transcript) Santiago made on the City Clerk’s website.

Connections. It’s all about who you know:

Santiago has one of the most powerful connections in LA city politics — Mark Gonzalez, who chairs the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. Gonzalez works as Santiago’s Assembly district director. Meanwhile, the party has endorsed Santiago in the CD14 race. Gonzalez is seeking Santiago’s State Assembly seat, and is challenging John Yi, recently the director of LA Walks

Why does this connection matter? City of Los Angeles elections are officially nonpartisan. You won’t see a party designation next to candidates’ names. And the LA City Council does not organize its official leadership structures around party lines. But Los Angeles voters are mostly registered Democrats, and the party organization Gonzalez leads wields significant power in local elections.

Fundraising: who’s handing out the cash

Santiago has by far the most money in the race supporting his campaign – even more than Kevin de León.

As of two weeks before polls close on March 5, Santiago’s campaign is supported by nearly half a million dollars in funds. The biggest amounts – hitting the cap of $900 – came from some of the city’s most powerful and well-known business groups: the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Association, the Los Angeles County Business Federation and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 

While no sitting city elected officials have endorsed Santiago, LA City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto sent $900 his way. More than 30 labor groups have donated to his campaign, as have former City Controller Ron Galperin and Sam Yebri, a westside attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the 5th council district in 2022. 

Santiago is a state legislator, which means we can learn more about who backs him by examining state campaign contribution records too. His state campaign account has received funds from numerous political action committees representing a wide array of interest groups.

Individual donations to these state committees are in the thousands. Beer and beverage companies, truck drivers, nurses, LADWP workers, corrections officers, and Indian gaming and casino interests have all donated to Santiago. As a state lawmaker, Santiago received funds from energy groups like Sempra Energy, Bloom Energy, and BNSF Railway, which recently lobbied the city on the SCIG (Southern California International Gateway) railroad project. 

Santiago also received donations from Amazon Services and pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk through the state accounts. The downtown business lobbying group Central City Association shows up again, and there are numerous donations from a political action committee called Govern for California that says its mission is “to counter special interests.”

Outside groups are spending big to elect Santiago. Independent expenditures in the 14th district race is now at more than $629,000, and all of it is to support Santiago. More than half of that – $345,000 – was spent by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, a powerful umbrella group for labor unions in the Los Angeles area. 

LA Fed money comes from donations from dozens of other unions, including one that represents LA city workers, and other service workers around the city (SEIU Local 721). Another donor to the LA Fed’s outside spending is the Smart Justice California Action Fund, a left of center group supporting criminal justice reforms. The LA Fed’s offices were also where the conversations in the leaked tapes on redistricting took place.

Another group with a big footprint in LA city politics, the Carpenters union, is also responsible for a big chunk of the outside spending for Santiago. This group bolstered the careers of both former mayor Eric Garcetti, and the current mayor, Karen Bass.

Finally, Santiago has more than $128,000 in matching funds, which candidates qualify for if they can show they have reached a certain amount of small donations, especially from those who live within the district itself — as opposed to money coming in from outside, and from deep pockets.

Spending inside the Campaign:

The bulk – about 40% – of Santiago’s campaign spending has been on mailers and campaign literature costs.The Ethics website lists more than 100 separate campaign communications from his campaign including mailers, emails, online ads, phone calls, that Santiago has sent to voters. He has sent more communication than all other CD14 candidates. 

He also spent money on polling last November. A quarter of his spending has been on campaign consultants, which include Barkan Strategies, Jacobson & Zilber Strategies and Kegeyan-Pappas Consulting.

Gifts and lobbyists:

Santiago is among the top candidates in the 2024 races receiving funds raised by lobbyists. He started the year 3rd behind sitting councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson and John Lee, according to the Ethics Commission’s 2nd quarter report. He was the 6th most lobbied in 2023, despite not actually being on the city council, according to an overview of the 2023 year released as part of the latest lobbying activity report.

In his income and gifts disclosure to the Ethics Commission, Santiago reported getting gifts that include a caucus lunch with the California Democratic Party, Disneyland Tickets from the Pechanga Band of Indians, $115.32 of food and drink from the California Council of Laborers, a fleece jacket from the California Armenian Legislative Caucus, $488 in Disneyland Tickets from the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, jacket and battery pad from Mark Gonzalez, his district director, and wine and jacket with battery pack from Jaspreet Johl, his chief of staff in the Assembly.

Endorsements, and what’s being said about them:

Santiago has the endorsement of the LA Times. Youth Strike LA has specifically identified Santiago as a “green-washing candidate.” Santiago’s campaign website points to the many labor groups that endorse him, and he has the endorsement of the LA County Federation of Labor, an influential group at City Hall, and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. He also got the endorsement of the Central City Association, the downtown Los Angeles business group.

Elizabeth has been on the local government beat since 2006, and likes making her friends take public transportation for her birthday.