Late cash flooded L.A. school board races

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - howard.blume @la­times.com

lied or af­fil­i­ated groups, some with mis­lead­ing names — Par­ent Teacher Al­liance (which is not the PTA) and LA Stu­dents for Change, which was not a grass-roots stu­dent group.

The char­ter group files twice-yearly do­na­tion and spend­ing re­ports with the Cal­i­for­nia sec­re­tary of state. The lat­est re­port, filed at the end of July, cov­ers the first half of 2017. Many pre­elec­tion do­na­tions came to light through pre­vi­ous state and lo­cal dis­clo­sures, in­clud­ing nearly $7 mil­lion since Septem­ber 2016 from Net­flix founder Reed Hast­ings, the elec­tion cy­cle’s largest con­trib­u­tor.

Still, the re­port has new and re­veal­ing in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing some un­ex­pected bed­fel­lows. CCSA Ad­vo­cates, for ex­am­ple, pro­vided $150,000 to the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Party, which is typ­i­cally aligned with teacher unions, and $25,000 to Lo­cal 99 of Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union, which rep­re­sents 30,000 non-teach­ing school em­ploy­ees such as cus­to­di­ans and cafe­te­ria work­ers.

The Lo­cal 99 money was used to help sup­port char­ter-backed in­cum­bent Mon­ica Gar­cia, who had the lo­cal’s en­dorse­ment, said its po­lit­i­cal direc­tor Lester Gar­cia, who is not re­lated to the school board mem­ber.

Mon­ica Gar­cia, whose District 2 cov­ers down­town and sur­round­ing ar­eas, avoided a May runoff by win­ning a ma­jor­ity of votes in the March pri­mary.

CCSA Ad­vo­cates also con­trib­uted $74,000 to an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Speak Up, which launched in March 2016 and quickly stepped out as a strong op­po­nent of in­cum­bent Steve Zim­mer in District 4, which stretches from the West­side to the west San Fer­nando Val­ley. Zim­mer, who was the school board pres­i­dent, lost to at­tor­ney Nick Melvoin.

Speak Up, which be­gan with a core of West­side vol­un­teers, said Wed­nes­day that it also ac­cepted $125,000 from the Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion, a pro-char­ter or­ga­ni­za­tion funded by the founders of Wal-Mart. (Wal­ton fam­ily heirs also do­nated heav­ily to CCSA Ad­vo­cates.) Other donors in­clude wealthy res­i­dents and Bloom­field ($50,000).

Speak Up Direc­tor Katie Braude said her group ac­cepted the CCSA Ad­vo­cates money be­cause “our two or­ga­ni­za­tions shared the same goal: to elect Nick Melvoin, a can­di­date we be­lieve will put the in­ter­ests of kids be­fore the in­ter­ests of adults.”

Ann Wexler, who is co­founder of a char­ter school and vol­un­teered with Speak Up, char­ac­ter­ized the con­nec­tion as “the real elec­tion story: Scrappy moms bend bil­lion­aires to their will and get their guy elected.”

CCSA Ad­vo­cates de­clined to an­swer ques­tions about its fundrais­ing, spend­ing and strat­egy, but said it com­plied with all le­gal re­quire­ments.

The over­all out­side spend­ing in the school board races — $9.7 mil­lion by char­ter back­ers and $5.2 mil­lion by unions for their fa­vored can­di­dates — masked a shift on both sides af­ter Zim­mer fin­ished first in the four-way March pri­mary with a seem­ingly com­fort­able 47% of the vote.

How­ever, in the runoff be­tween Zim­mer and sec­ond­place Melvoin, union spend­ing for Zim­mer (mostly but not ex­clu­sively from United Teach­ers Los An­ge­les) de­clined from the pri­mary’s $1.64 mil­lion to $940,000.

Pro-char­ter spend­ing for Melvoin, mean­while, in­creased from $2.16 mil­lion to $3.71 mil­lion, giv­ing him a 4to-1 cash ad­van­tage.

In District 6, in the east San Fer­nando Val­ley, unions ramped up spend­ing on be­half of Imelda Padilla, from about $500,000 in the pri­mary to more than $1.9 mil­lion in the runoff. But char­ter back­ers kept pace, in­creas­ing their spend­ing for the vic­to­ri­ous Kelly Gonez from $830,000 in the pri­mary to $2.61 mil­lion in the runoff.

Ri­cardo DeAratanha Los An­ge­les Times

WILLIAM BLOOM­FIELD, a Man­hat­tan Beach busi­ness­man and char­ter school ad­vo­cate, gave $2.275 mil­lion to the L.A. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns in the May 16 elec­tion — the vast ma­jor­ity in April and May.

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