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Charter Schools Influence

The California Charter Schools Lobby Masks Influence And Effect Through Myriad “Independent Expenditure Committees”, As Difficult To Follow As A Shell Game

The Charter industry lobby has expended a total of $91.4 million dollars in California between 11/18/08 and 12/31/18, according to political financial information stored online by the Secretary of State through “Cal-Access”.

This figure is likely low but its variability is hard to calculate. For example the figure could erroneously include administrative replicates, but it may also include double-billing or distinct filings indistinguishable due to cursory reporting requirements. The figure omits Cal-Access “late filings”, imprecisely integrated into “regular” filings, and thereby potentially significantly under-estimates the true total.

Evolution in name alone

What is so confusing is the multi-stage process by which the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) lobby dispenses its largesse. There is a direct process and a derivative one. Over this time period CCSA has opened 25 distinct “Recipient Committees”, entities raising contributions from others, nine of which have been subsequently terminated. These 25 Committees have operated under 54 different names. Some of this multiplicity is reasonable because the lobbying effort is state-wide and different Committees will make expenditures to different local issues and candidates. But some of it is a succession of evolving names associated with a specific Committee. Sure, it all traces back to the same ideological pot of gold so while the zeitgeist shifts, the named Committee can just get a slight upgrade in verbiage since the spigot is unchanged. But it feels shifty in intention too, as if the Committee-As-Palimpsest were a deliberate effort to overwrite and obscure the group’s underlying, persistent and singular, special interest. (table 1: CCSA IECs).

Charter Schools Influence

Fewer than half of the numbered Committees have any expenditures associated with them. Yet Independent Expenditure Committees, or “IEC”s aka Political Action Committees (PACs), are specifically designed as a vehicle to directly influence candidates or elections or policy through expenditure. What does a committee without expenditures do; why does it exist?

18 different categories of expenditures are delineated though collectively, 98% of CCSA’s outlay is categorized as one of just two types: “Contribution” or “Independent Expenditure” (table 2).

Charter Schools Influence

Some “contributions” are directly made to a candidate’s campaign, governed by campaign limits. But when an expenditure is made “independent” of coordination with candidate or campaign, there is no limit on size (with qualifications; it’s complicated).

And while the candidate or campaign benefiting is disclosed, whether positively or negatively (“support” or “opposition”), the recipient of that expenditure can be direct – as in a vendor or candidate’s eponymous committee – or derivative – as in a named committee with no obvious reference to the lobbying “mother ship”. That’s where the confusion and opportunity for deception hides. For example while CCSA has distributed expenditures over the years from 25 Recipient Committees known under 54 names, the CCSA itself is named as “payee” for four recipient groups without apparent or nominal charter lobby association: “Speak Up”, “Families And Educators For Public Education”, “Parent Teacher Alliance” and “SFER Action Network”.

Speak Up is another of the mysterious campaign finance committees, in this case EID 1395636, with no visible filings onCal-Access. CCSA has expended money to a named group, with no apparent linguistic connection to CCSA, but which is paid via a check made out to itself: California Charter Schools Association Advocates (CCSAA). Thus SpeakUp reports no financial ties and masks its underlying ties to CCSA, but they are ultimately the same entity.

Families And Educators For Public Education is another of these mysteriously empty recipient groups. It operates as EID 1331137 under four different names (table 3), sponsored variously by “Go Public Schools Advocates” and “Great Oakland Public Schools”. CCSA expended money on this group but unlike the SpeakUp expenditures, paid the group itself by name.

Charter Schools Influence

Similarly Parent Teacher Alliance is one of six aliases for the same singular recipient committee, EID 1367043, sponsored by the Charter lobby CCSA directly (table 4). Again, a qualitatively different named group is employed to obscure an expenditure from the charter lobby to its own self as the CCSAA. Though this “Alliance” was broadlyreported as fraudulent, mimicking the venerable, 120-year-old, trademarked and non-partisan Parent Teachers Association. CCSAA has paid over $18.5m to its Parent Teacher Alliance.

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SFER Action Network, “Students For Education Reform” sponsored an outside spending IEC for LAUSD Board District 5 losing primary candidate Allison Bajracharya, despite the CCSA’sclaim it would remain unallied in this race. The general electionis MAY 14, 2019: ¡¡ VOTE !! And the trail of successive names for EID 1368259 (table 5) clearly link Bajracharya with close LAUSD board allies Garcia and Melvoin. SFER received contributions from the charter lobby CCSA as a payment to its own self, as CCSAA.

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The pattern of marketing hype is plain as can be: “Teachers and Parents”, “Excellent Public Schools”, “Great Public Education”, “Public Charter Schools Now”. A bot could mix and match phrases but credibility or accountability is harder to design.

Where the money goes

Gifts in-kind are considered non-monetary “contributions” assigned a financial value and distributed as any other expenditure. “Contributions” and “independent expenditures” both may be distributed directly to a vendor or an influence group with an IEC; the expenditures may be intended to support or oppose a candidate or measure, or not. Beyond the four disingenuously named groups above, CCSA has expended money via 124 “outside groups”, 84 of which are “derivative” in the sense that with no candidate or measure reported as a direct beneficiary, the charter lobby’s extent and direction of influence is unclear. Three of these “outside groups” are IECs controlled by the charter lobby itself (CCSA, CCSAA, CCSAA IEC). These distributions are displayed as a function of whether the expenditures were reported to benefit a campaign, and the nature of the campaign if so (table 6: IEC expenditures by candidate status). The characterizations are detailed below.

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While nearly 60% of those total ($91.4m) expenditures are distributed among 273 vendors, most of this money goes to a scant few. The top dozen charter school vendors received $40.5m since 2008, nearly 75% of the charter lobby’s vendor budget (table 7):

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More visibly, 427 candidates and 16 legislative measures have been supported over the decade with 84% of CCSA’s expenditures, to: 1 national candidate, 11 state-wide candidates, 172 state-level legislators and 25 local ones. The rest, 218, were candidates for local, county or state-wide schools governance (some candidates have held more than one office) (table 8).

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On closer inspection, like the vendors who were numerous overall but few in number receiving the highest expenditures, the top dozen most-favored candidates consumed more than ¾ of all expenditures (table 9). The conditions that confer gilded status involve the State’s largest Education markets: LAUSD, State Governor and Superintendent of Instruction. But several State legislators have received considerable largesse: Madison Nguyen, Laura Friedman, Anna Caballero, Vanessa Delgado, Steve Glazer, Luz Rivas, Frine Medrano, Prophet Walker, Scott Wiener. There is some Developer-friendly sentiment among this group.

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Most striking is the enormous sums spent on losing campaigns. The charter lobby sunk $23m on the gubernatorial race, 25% of which was on negative campaigning. Another $1m+ went under with the statewide Superintendent race. And in the State’s largest school district, an indistinct but huge sum approaching $18m was ultimately lost around the 2015 school board race with the eventual indictment of CCSA’s candidate from Board District 5, the outright loss of Board District 3 and the caprice of Board District 7. Though arguably counterbalanced through successful expenditures of approximately $9m in Board District 4 as well as 2 and 6, these victories cost ill-will from 30% expenditures on negative campaigning, widespread feelings of betrayal following the winter’s teacher strike in Board District 2 and growing ambivalence in Board District 6. Taken together the announced “decision” to at least go light if not abstain from the special election replacing CCSA’s felon in BD5, may reflect necessity or no-confidence more closely than deliberate choice. (table 10).

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While undeniably the charter lobby is comprised of far more IECs than this limited set which display the “Charter Schools Association” label, something approaching the 40%-50% mark of charter lobby expenditures may have catastrophically failed in influencing anyone of late. It’s encouraging to recognize the discouragement of dark money and dark forces. Civil Justice is served when resources are distributed fairly and equitably. There is no true way to describe jerry-rigged redistributions as anything but a favoritism scheme for the anointed. And there is no way that spending ungodly sums on persuasion and trickery is in the best interests of anyone but those with something to hide.

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Sara Roos
RedQueenInLA

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