Late cash flooded L.A. school board races
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.
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.