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Big political interests are big:  Yep, we all know this, but until a tiny little just-me person comes up against their fighting power it’s hard to comprehend.

Money to candidates comes in two flavors (see graphics here):  (a) that which is controlled by the candidate him/herself, and (b) that which the candidate has no control of, collected and spent by “independent expenditure committees” (IECs) “outside” the campaign.

While the really big shenanigans are contained within IEC expenditures, it turns out campaign donations can be useful indicators of “who” a candidate is, where and among whom their support lies; who considers them a worthy early investment, who chips in downstream.

These monies can even give clues as to regional culture and characteristics. Which is very useful considering the vastness of Los Angeles Unified’s school district (LAUSD), carved into just seven political zones of representation, mapped here. LAUSD encompasses 710 square miles including 26 municipalities and unincorporated areas of LA County, in which 100 different languages are spoken. Divide that by 7 as a rough estimate of what goes on in your particular district, and it’s no wonder if you have no clue of its diversity never mind what’s happening in the next one over.

Thus while we are all exhausted from the BOE campaigns of this past decade which spewed millions upon millions of dollars from all across the country right into our backyards, scrutinizing this smaller subset of more tightly-held candidate’s-dollars (the direct money) sketches the big interests and patterns out there more compactly. Because:  it’s campaign season again. March 3, 2020 is when we vote not just in the presidential primary but for LAUSD’s odd-numbered board seats:  LAUSD1, LAUSD3, LAUSD5 and LAUSD7. And with five candidates competing to represent current and termed-out board member Dick Vladovic’s “South Bay”, District 7 (LAUSD7) seat, there’s a good chance of a runoff election between the top two vote-getters in November, 2020.

A total of $206,440 (including loans) has been collectively reported to the City of LA Ethics Commission for 2019 from among eight candidates who filed to represent LAUSD7, just five of whom qualified to appear on the ballot. The five highest-collecting candidates in LAUSD’s seventh district (as of 1/10/19, a quarterly filing deadline) are:  Mike Lansing ($115,224), Tanya (Ortiz) Franklin ($42,456), Patricia Castellanos ($15,875), Silke Bradford ($14,283), Edgar Campos ($4,334). Also listed with CoLA Ethics are Lydia Gutierrez, Nichelle Henderson and Estuardo Ruana; Campos, Henderson and Ruana will not appear on the ballot.

As of 1/10/19, 378 unique individuals (477 distinct donations) and 20 Committees have contributed to LAUSD7 candidates, some repeatedly to competing candidates!  That is the story of this race – several (if not all) candidates favor “reform” or “privatizing” or “neoliberal” approaches to public education and are competing for dollars from the same regions of the ideological spectrum. These candidates look so alike in some respects that some ideological donors are evidently hedging their support by donating to nominal competitors.

Mike Lansing, like recently re-elected prodigal board member Jackie Goldberg, represented LAUSD’s South Bay more than a decade ago during two terms spanning 1999 – 2007. Kids who entered kindergarten in the year he left office will graduate from high school this spring. His leadership transferred subsequently to kids-oriented, community-centered, power-focusing organizations like the Harbor’s Boys & Girls Club. But the list of his donors (see table 2 below) reveals steady support from among old-guard Southern district leaders through to present politicos immersed in the development and management of the ports and harbor. Reflecting this political ruling class is the size of his donations. More than half the total directly raised for candidates is Lansing’s and his funds are 2.7x that of the next-highest-raising candidate (see table 1).

A very rough, tripartite universe categorizing the source of support is traced. This is not a definitive categorization, and it is not without bias. Individuals may ally with multiple regions and the order of categorization is not strict. Self-ascribed alliance is respected but not unilaterally. Emphasis fell informally on characterizing district v. charter allegiance and business interests.

Table 1 shows the distribution of these roughly characterized funds between candidates. The proportion attributable to each candidate by ‘sector’ – “Business”, “Governance”, “Education” – is in black font inside the blue-highlighted lines as a row percent of dollars collected (not counts of either unique donors (n=378) or donations (n=477)). The distribution of donations by ‘source’ is further characterized within sectors as detailed in the far left column. Column percents within each sector are in blue font for each source. e.g., candidate Campos raised just 1% of the $56,682 from Education sector sources, and these monies came mostly from medical professionals while district teachers contributed twice that of teachers working within alternative education-management systems.


Table 1:  Distribution of donations by source and within sector showing comparative sector proportions (by candidate) and relative source distribution (within candidate) per sector.

Reflecting his history with politics in LA County’s heavily industrial ports district, Lansing’s contributions within the Business and Governance sectors swamps his opponent’s. Also out-raising his opponents in the Education sector, but only by a factor of 2, Lansing’s teacher-support comes almost entirely from privatized school structures or ideologues rather than district teachers. This backing neatly reflects the once and current Riordan-candidate whose stance on the BOE was formerly as a strong ally of charter advocates.

Interestingly, Lansing’s support from old-guard, anti-union, charter advocates (local and national) has jumped in the last quarter, nearly doubling the very large contributions accepted from education-privatizing/charter proponents (light pink box on far left of figures 1 & 2, contrasting frequency of candidate’s donations categorized by size {“Very large” = ≥ $1000, “Large” = $500-$999, “Medium” = $101-$499, “Small” = ≤ $100} and sector, from after (fig 1) and before (fig 2) the campaign push into full gear at the new year). The rest of his high-ticket support is from infrastructural business interests (see table 2) like railroads, tollroads, and commercial developers of the ports and the Harbor business community including, especially, the Boys & Girls Club which Mike Lansing runs, a focus of philanthropic activity among South Bay families.

Lansing’s donations since the latest filing deadline have grown by over 30% in number, mostly among large donations. Franklin’s have spiked to more than double in number, but from among far smaller average donations. As a result Franklin’s totals are close to one-third of Lansing’s, whose power-backers raised more than that of all his challengers combined.

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Figures 1 & 2: Frequency of candidate donations by size (clustered bars) and sector (colored series); contrasted as “early” (fig 1) and current (fig 2)

Figure 3 depicts candidate’s relative distribution of donations according to ‘sector’-support. The series of blue sections are Business, the red series are Government, the green series derive from Education sources. These are generalized groupings (see table 1); specifics are included in the legend’s source names.

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Figure 3: Relative distribution of candidate donations as distinctly colored series reflecting source (series) and Sector (distinct color)

Reflecting her background as an analyst and staffer, support for Castellanos derives largely from the political sector, without Lansing’s large business and former-education contacts. As an education professional and lawyer tasked explicitly with “transforming” district schools, Franklin’s support derives more from individuals in the Education sector, particularly those associated with privatizing the Commons and public schools. Accordingly she has considerable support from the finance sector, though largely in smaller donations (figure 2). Unitemized donations and support from donors whose relationship to these sectors was unclear or unknown are largely retired or self-employed and uncategorizable.

Bradford’s donors also reflect her background as a long-time educator and administrator working for, with, and to regulate charter schools. Her support from district teachers is proportionally largest. The charts in figure 3 do not reflect the relative totals for each candidate because the imbalance is so large it would erase detail of distribution source. Bradford’s receipts are approximately equal to Castellanos, but reflect a far greater experience with educational as opposed to governmental functions, and are largely free of support from Developers and the FIRE sector (direct or otherwise; “FIRE” stands for {Finance, Insurance Real Estate} but there are many firefighters among Lansing’s supporters too). Campos’ donations are too sparse for deriving information.

Table 2 displays all reported campaign donations as of 1/10/20. The list is long and displayed by last name only; a few non-family members share the same last name but most repeated occurrences are familial.


Table 2: Distribution of total donations by last name according to Sector and Source

There is no independent expenditure committee money in this analysis. Noting the geographic source of funds (table 3) suggests to look for outside money particularly in support of Franklin’s campaign with its large proportion of non-California money, and also Lansing’s with his large donor base from nationally active privatization-ideologues (see table 2 – e.g., Baxter, Bloomfield, Broad, Canter, Lundquist, Landers, Gritzner, Kindel, Hession – and here or here for more discussion of the “usual suspects”).


Table 3: Geographic distribution of donations by size

This is a proxy fight between old-time Riordan backers with their dreams of City control of the schools (Riordan), and new-time City/County control with their endorsed staffer Castellanos; leavened by charter ideologue Franklin and the charter-experienced Bradford. Several unions reflect these fractures, with SEIU and UTLA (service workers, teachers respectively) endorsing Castellano while CSEA (library aides) endorses Bradford. The endorsement of Lansing and Franklin is readily apparent from the distribution catalogued by their donation sources above.

Given this harmonious ideology among candidates if not donations, it appears there is no obvious ideological “target” upon any proverbial back. Without a clear “enemy” to beat, outside spending may be gentle and as with the primary for LAUSD4, losers may simply wind up subsumed in the office of the winner. The race for LAUSD7 is not so much a selection process as a sorting mechanism.