Cute videos have peppered the website of Steve Zimmer’s opponents claiming to be shocked at the suggestion that big money is sloshing about the LAUSD4 school board race. ‘We’re just aw-shucks folks in the face of the Big Bad Union…’ goes that canard.

Well that’s basically shocked-shocked since it’s hardly news that Zimmer’s opponents are some of the richest people in America. Eli Broad, whom everyone’s familiar with as the architect of the “your-schools-suck-so-I-think-we-should-just-sell-half-of-them-down-the-river-to-my-pals-you-won’t-notice-much-plan”, is America’s 58th-richest bloke, but he’s not the only billionaire backer of the anti-Zimmer alliance.

Melvoin’s personal campaign donations pile has hidden among its heaps 6 such billionaires; Pohill’s a mere singular one {Arnold, Bloomberg, Broad, Karsh, Marks, Schusterman; Broad donated to Polhill as well}. Zimmer’s, well, ahem, not-so-much. He’s kinda left out in the cold by that big bad Union composed of … you and me.

As of last week Melvoin had 3x the maximum contributors as the others. He may have lots of littler contributions, but some of those are setup through handy-dandy monthly contributions just like your public radio station manages with its paid staff. This sort of snazzy, hyper-organized process for raking in the dough relatively painlessly is brought to you by some big-bucks, high-priced, professional campaign coordinators and PR consultancies. Their websites are a lot of fun to peruse and as a special bonus you’ll recognize a parade of “grassroots parent” organizations there too. Just like the one powering Zimmer’s opposition’s campaigns. It’s a little humbling to contemplate how much us just-parents need corralling by such slick, expensive, organization.

Which makes sense because when I try to arrange tshirts for my daughter’s extracurriculars (i) we can’t afford it and (ii) the effort just about kills everyone. Meanwhile every time you turn around Charter Schools are closing their doors so color-coordinated protestors can chant in coordinated union – professional organizers are so awesome to contemplate. That’s the kind of Union Charter-School-Corporates can really get behind: the sort that gins up GDP with tshirt purchases.

And so it’s empirically true that Zimmer’s campaign is being swamped out by billionaires’ money from beyond. Here’s how it’s done:

Appreciable money isn’t coming in through the personal campaign contributions that video references. This seepage is true, but it’s a rivulet compared with the hose trained on the swamp. The video tells the truth, but in no way the whole truth because those personal contributions are capped. It’s a fun exercise to look at how many and from whom the maximum $1100 donations emanate. These do tend to be very wealthy donors but for these billionaires, this capped sum is utterly trivial at 6 orders of magnitude less than their wealth. That’s like the dent a dime would make in the mortgage on your house, presuming it’s in the 6-figure range.

Here is last week’s comparative tally and frequency distributions of donations handed directly to the candidates for LAUSD’s 4th Board District (LAUSD4):

The controlling pressure of really big-time contributions is not coming from these tawdry personal tidbits, it’s coming from Committees that collect money to spend on the candidate without his personal involvement.

Independent Expenditure Committees, or “PACs”, are setup to spend on behalf of a candidate, either in support or in opposition; the expenditure is categorized (aka “negative” or “positive” campaigning). Candidates (nominally, legally) have no input, control or knowledge of how or for what purpose these “IEs”, or Independent Expenditures, are made. The source of their generous flow is hard to trace, the better to obscure the degree to which and to whom your future public servant is indebted.

Independent Expenditures (IEs) are filed by Independent Committees (ICs), whose coffers are filled by two different spigots: (i) those that tap Individuals and (ii) those that tap Groups of individuals. These Groups are themselves organized as “Committees” with their own constituent contributors, which are themselves composed of (a) Individuals and (b) Groups of individuals. In this way campaign giving is nested inside derivative sets of donations.

Such convolutions may leave the donation trail of a given individual hard to follow, obscuring the nature and extent of a donor’s true support, as was famously uncovered in the aftermath of the campaigns for California’s propositions 30 and 32 in 2016. After-the-fact it turned out that Mr Broad and Mr Fisher (among others), both Fortune400 billionaire backers of big Education Reform in LA (aka Charter School privatization), while claiming to support tax and political contribution equity initiatives were in reality undermining both by funding their opposition. Publicly it was possible to claim support while their actions told a different story. But because the giving process is so convoluted and obscure their deception evaded detection until long after the election. (Note, however, that since the same individuals cycle through subsequent elections and political campaigns iteratively there’s no obvious reason they can’t be held accountable on moral principle when details are quarantined).

In LAUSD’s board district 4, big money allies with charter school advocates and supporters of Eli Broad’s privatization scheme to move half LAUSD’s students out of regular district schools into “public” charter ones. Tracking Charter School money starts with individual contributions, but it is necessary to reveal the layers of derivative PAC money in order to appreciate the full extent of its influence.

The following chart shows relative IC expenditures for Zimmer and his CA Charter School Association-endorsed opponents (CCSA). Each spots’ volume represents total $; IEs on behalf of Zimmer’s opponents are twice as large overall. The pie chart-detail around the perimeter shows the constituency of each IC; primarily these are groups, not individuals:

For example, let’s follow CCSA’s contribution as of 2/17/17 to Nick Melvoin, LAUSD4 challenger .

(1) Employees of this Association give to candidates personally, as individuals (total: $550).

(2) A group called the “Parent Teacher Alliance”, sponsored by CCSA Advocates IE Committee, filed $411K in support of both challengers, and $35K in opposition to the incumbent. Of that $446K total, 5% was paid back to CCSA’s IC for services rendered, 15% went to “The Cerana Group”, a San Diego company organized soon after the campaign, and 83% went to “West Coast Public Affairs”, a political PR consultancy. Click to magnify and move around the graphic below:

Follow CCSA's money chart


CCSA’s IC is composed of 22 individuals/Foundations and 11 aggregated “Groups” of contributors (two charts in purple on the left of the above figure; please magnify!). Since the last LAUSD4 election in 2013, $22m has swamped this IC from a committed group of public school privatizers. $5.3m comes from Reed Hastings, the Netflix CEO whose PR for a lurid show seemed to be the pattern for an exceedingly “negative” campaign expenditure against incumbent Zimmer. KIPP charter schools crusader Doris Fisher (Gap, Inc) gave $4.7m, while three Walton-family members (Wal-mart) contributed $2.9m. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, the 6th richest person in all of America, contributed $1.3m to California’s Charter School Association; his daughter sits on KIPP’s BOD too. John & Regina Scully of Success Academies’ BOD (think: Eva Moskowicz), gave $1.3m; LA’s former republican mayor and well-known charter proponent Dick Riordan gave $1.1m. KIPP National Partners John & Laura Arnold gave $1m and lesser amounts were given by Barbara Grimm-Marshall (Grimmway Farms, Charter School operator); Silicon Valley investors Arthur Rock (Kipp National Partners), Laurene Jobs (Apple). Cameo appearances (<$100K) go to investor Frank Baxter (Alliance Charters), Stacy Schusterman (KIPP, TFA). Individuals’ wealth ranking is included in parentheses when members of Forbes400.

That’s a mighty powerful organization. $22m dollars at your back is a lot of indebtedness. But it’s only part of the story.

Inside each of those 11 constituent Committees contributing nearly $1m to CCSA directly, are individuals and Committees giving to these respective Committees. The total given into these ICs is $69.8m. Of this money, $58.2m is contributed by individuals. And most of these are the same individuals who gave directly to the CCSA in the first place.

Thus their personal contributions to CCSA is far greater than initially appears.

The following table catalogues all personal or Foundation contributions to CCSA directly between 2013-2016 in addition to those contributions toward Committees that themselves filled out Committees that compose CCSA’s IC.

These donors are organized by family-giving and very roughly categorized according to interest in Charter Schools, understanding these distinctions are subjective and overlapping. Generally, donors might be thought of from five categories: satellite enablers of Charter Schools, whether (1) educational service providers secondary to the Charter School corporation, or (2) political operatives tasked with sustaining their brand. There are (3) venture philanthropists whose interest is relatively capitalistic as opposed to pedagogic and there are (4) personnel onsite at Charter schools themselves as well as (5) investor-angel-ideologues purportedly committed to the Educational virtue of removing the business of educating the public by its own hands (perhaps invoking Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter”). Click to clarify and magnify the table:

Table all indiv CCSA donors

This makes it very clear the vast extent of Corporate millions backing the Charter campaign of Steve Zimmer’s opponents. Fifty eight million dollars invested in four years, at a minimum, by very present corporate investors in Charter Schools, is a lot of controlling pressure any way you look at it.

If someone says “We love this idea $58m dollars worth, and we will fund your bid for office because you have pledged support in this investment”, you better be sure that’s a strong quid pro quo tacitly established.

That’s the tenor of beholdenment and corporate entitlement that’s so parallel to what Betsy DeVos brings to the Federal DOE and which has everyone so spooked.

Sure our public school system has problems, but all is not unremitting disaster and there’s still a process intact for ordinary citizens to claw their way toward collective improvement. The moment we remove public transparency, accountability and control of our children’s education and our nation’s future, is the moment we sell our democracy downriver to plutocratic “special interests”.

That’s the future Zimmer’s opposition connives to establish. A public Education sector privatized for corporate ends. It’s no future for our children and it’s no future for our democracy either.

Please don’t give the Betsy DeVos of LA any purchase this March 7, 2017: Vote for Steve Zimmer to hold the line against privatizing our schools.

The stakes are that stark.


p.s. LA: The ferocity of CCSA’s attack is particularly visible and ironically so in LAUSD4 because Steve Zimmer defies the Charter movements bid for educational hegemony. But in fact their most obligated, least-forbearing minion is not even among the pair opposing Zimmer but has been entrenched in LAUSD2 since 2006. Not Zimmer, but in fact Mónica Garcia was the board’s president at the time of the ipad debacle. It was she who was ensconced at the foot of the board-U, shepherding Eli Broad’s unvetted and unqualified vassal John Deasy via then-superintendent Ramón Cortines, personally enabling one of the larger proposed heists of public monies in memory.

Why is it that she is not held accountable for selling out the district?

Fortunately there are two candidates running against her either of whom would be far, far superior champions of LAUSD2’s kids. Carl Petersen brings a parent’s perspective to the complexities of managing the nation’s second-largest public school system. And native daughter Lisa Alva brings a prodigal teacher’s wisdom to the table regarding Education ®eform.

Either candidate is preferable to the one currently squatting there, but I don’t have to decide which because I don’t live in LAUSD2. In fact you don’t either, all that is necessary is that your vote not go to the CCSA candidate, because their mission is to privatize the public Commons. If you want some say in how we raise the next generation, our very own kids, then it is necessary to show these privatizers the door. VOTE ON MARCH 7, 2017, and VOTE IN LAUSD2 AGAINST DEVOSIFICATION.

VOTE FOR ALVA; VOTE FOR PETERSEN. Your choice, we all win.