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With billionaires circling the wagons on the debate stage and encircling our sensibilities in local municipal school board elections, it is reasonable to consider how moguls-turned-politicians influence politics. Michael Bloomberg is no stranger to California education politics; how has he been donating toward control in our California elections?

Bloomberg Candidacy

The good news from a local-autonomy standpoint is… not much, not this time. Like the lobby association for charter schools, CCSA, charter ideologues seem to be allowing a charter candidate to fall out of the primaries, at least in the open District 7 seat. Currently, several candidates are seriously vying for the seat, and most of the big money backing charter school candidates is waiting to see whether Tanya Franklin or Mike Lansing emerges as the challenger to the union-backed Patricia Castellanos, or Oakland-schools charter maven-regulator Silke Bradford.

Michael Bloomberg has not contributed to any Independent Expenditure Committees (IECs), where the really big bankroll lies in this year’s school board races. He has instead contributed maximally ($1200) only to candidate Franklin.

Franklin works for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS), a school turnaround organization particularly focused on technology as educational panacea, hailing from the administration of LA Mayor Villaraigosa. Mayor Villaraigosa has been a multi-million dollar recipient of Michael Bloomberg’s support (see table 1 below). Michael Bloomberg’s fortune was founded on and is sustained by technological gateways.

Donations to IECs are not capped and their funds are not, by law, under control of the candidate themselves. Consequently the enormous heaps of resources controlled by IECs fund the negative, nasty, dirty campaigning which has become standard operating procedure in LAUSD board races in this era of Public School Choice and school privatization.

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Because funds are not controlled by the candidate, the disconnect provides the candidate plausible deniability regarding communications up to and including slanderous, unethical and misleading broadsides. Spending in such races tends to be very lopsided and indeed in Board District 3 and BD5 IEC spending favors charter-supported candidates 3x-6x : 1

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Bloomberg’s donations do follow a clear pattern in the state of California consistent with the bread crumb donation to PLAS’ Franklin.

Another major recipient of Bloomberg’s largesse associated with PLAS is Marshall Tuck who twice lost the race for the state’s superintendency. Villaraigosa, the instigator of PLAS as mentioned above, was prodigiously propped up by more than $3.5m. As were other “strong-mayor” or executive ideologues like Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson, the former husband of Michelle Rhee, poster child for school turnaround orthodoxy.

For over two decades Bloomberg has funded leaders and education initiatives that support his brand of high technological intervention.

For over two decades Bloomberg has funded leaders and education initiatives that support his brand of high technological intervention.

School privatization leaders and ideology (PLAS, CCSA), charter-sympathetic school board candidates in LA (current school board members Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin) and particularly in Oakland (Harris, Neighbors, Hodge); and candidates admiring of “strong” (plutocratic/non-populist influenced) public policy characterize Bloomberg’s recipients of support.

And when it comes to political donations, the big apple’s fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Michael Bloomberg’s daughter, Emma Bloomberg, mirrors his familial politics of venture-philanthropy and shares her father’s long-standing infatuation with charter schools. The pair’s donations detailed here are not exhaustive. Emma has also supported Villaraigosa and ideological school board candidates. The Democratic Daily uncovers an additional $8m in Bloomberg donations and references other adherents of “strong” government, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example.

Outside of electoral politics, Bloomberg is animated by addressing public health through a regressive tax to counter “sin” addiction to tobacco and sugary drinks, devoting $23m to that market vision.

The beginning of Bloomberg’s bicoastal influence peddling was to rewrite the way California devises its electoral district boundaries. Proposition 11 was opposed by the CA Democratic Party, and its major supporters comprise membership in a Plutocratic/1%/Charter-Ideological “Dream Team”: Charlie Munger, Jerrold Perenchio, Reed Hastings, Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad among other Developers and pillars of commerce. This is not a team that supports either the Public or the Commons. But at least for now The Mayor seems focused more on his own fortunes than Los Angeles’ school board’s.

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Sara Roos
Los Angeles Educational Exchange