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“When you find hypocrisy in the daylight, look for power in the shadows” -Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, 10/13/20

Senator Whitehouse laid out beautifully on Tuesday the context surrounding Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings in Washington as the pushing and pulling of ‘actors inside the frame of a puppet theater.’ He argues that not only are outside forces controlling these actors in the main show but they are integral to the narrative of it. And some of the evidence for broadening focus beyond the proscenium is when characters in the drama adopt “the practice of claiming … moral standards or beliefs to which [their] own behavior does not conform”: hypocrisy.

Just so has Marilyn Koziatek – or the independent expenditure committee (IEC) from which she proudly accepts endorsement of her West San Fernando Valley campaign for school board in the LAUSD3 board district – swerved from insinuation of responsibility for scandals that occurred before his tenure, to antisemitism to anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice bigotry. Schmerelson’s defeated opponent who has endorsed Koziatek, has even hypocritically alluded to Scott Schmerelson’s former republican registration. Meanwhile, swearing brand new allegiance to a political party is precisely the maneuver employed by her endorsed-candidate, Ms Koziatek. The hypocrisy is not without irony, because Ms Koziatek’s unacknowledged switch is in suspicious temporal proximity to her bid for this non-partisan office. Mr Schmerelson’s, on the other hand, is in sharp ethical contrast since in concealing nothing, he has redeemed his revision of four years’ resistance, as ideological repudiation of today’s GOP.

Individual’s campaign contributions reflect ideological, not candidate, loyalty

Table 1 shows contributions to and between these campaigns directly: from individuals, from PACS (union, individuals and political), and from commercial special interests, as well as government entities (and “unitemized” entries). Individuals with campaign contributions to this set of candidates that totals $500 or below is suppressed in the interest of space; available on request.

Table 1: Campaign contributions to LAUSD school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools. Including individual’s, PACS’ (union, individuals and political), commercial special interests’, governmental and “unitemized” entries.

Table 1: Campaign contributions to LAUSD school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools. Including individual’s, PACS’ (union, individuals and political), commercial special interests’, governmental and “unitemized” entries.

An individual’s direct contribution is capped, set for local offices by local authorities. So spending totals are not as interesting as the range of spenders themselves. Individual donors give repeatedly across the set of ideological candidates, over and over to those representing the special collective interest of such donors. Not to specific candidates and their individual message.

The colored heat strip beside the totals column represents the frequency of each donor family’s offerings. Red is to all seven of these privatizing candidates. Green is to just one. Among the maximum-givers, there is a strong propensity to give not to one candidate specifically, but across the set to the entirety. These are demonstrations of ideological support. Not actual monetary support; that comes in the IECs (see below). It is through individual donations that nominal endorsement is signaled at this high end of giving.

With a cap of $1100 per race, billionaires and multi-millionaires will never notice this ante of order 4-7 times less magnitude than their wealth. In contrast an ordinary citizen, classified perhaps as much as a millionaire by virtue of the value of their home, might be more judicious chipping in to a candidate’s campaign on an order of magnitude 1-3 times less than their wealth.

In other words, these contributions are trivial to the ultra-wealthy, worth essentially less than a cup of coffee to you or me. Which accounts for the large peppering of support from a broad swathe of individuals. In this context support for Marilyn Koziatek is the latest in a set of candidates serenaded by, in Senator Whitehouse’s words, an “orchestrated chorus” of donors, anteing up for the kitty of controlling policy in the nation’s largest electorially-controlled school district. These are candidates who claim their fee from the string of donors. They are vectors for delivering these patron’s special interest: wealth and the making of it.

Contributors to Marilyn Koziatek’s earnings are set to compare with her fellow ideologue, candidate Tanya Franklin, currently running for the board seat in LAUSD’s South Bay district 7. They jockey for seating beside incumbent champions of privatizing our public schools, Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and Mónica Garcia. These board member’s tenure varies and accordingly the range of years when contributions were accepted is variable, listed along with the number of campaign committees for each privateer. The termed-out OG Garcia ran in last March’s primary for a different office, City Council. That campaign’s contributions are included though they support the candidate for another position, because her power remains in the school board where she still serves. Two previous champions of school privatization fill out the set, including former board president and sentenced felon Ref Rodriguez, along with Alex Johnson who upon defeat by challenger George McKenna for LAUSD’s board district 1, was appointed by his patron, Mark Ridley-Thomas, to the County’s Board of Education.

The main source of wealth and various manifestations of school privatization may accompany each contributor’s shared last (family) name. Unrelated contributors are sporadically batched erroneously, but their individual contribution is trivial. Of importance is the consistency of contributions across the set of candidates rather than the absolute value of the size of these contributions. Further breakdown of individuals to elucidate this over-generalization is available on request.

These data were downloaded from the City of LA’s ethics commission 10/10/20. The table will be updated as 24-hour contributions are registered. And the notes on donor’s source of wealth and other associations with educational outfits will slowly accrete.

Among the first 25 individual donors, 28% gave to all candidates across the set of privatization-sympathizers. Among the rest principally are donors from family sets related to a specific candidate who would not, therefore, be expected to contribute across the candidates.

Among these top 25 donors ranging from $11.9K - $78.3K total, are four {Broad, Baxter, Fisher, Bloomfield} outted last year at OpenSecrets.org for contributing heavily to the dark money GOP PAC “Americans For Job Security”. Largely active during President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, the now defunct PAC also attacked Democrats and promoted Republicans in congressional races.

Another of these GOP donors, Carrie Penner, conspicuously departs from the usual full complement of donations, focusing instead on just one board member, the arguably most self-consciously partisan, BD4’s Nick Melvoin.

Tables 2 and 3 focus on the political and commercial special interest PACs respectively contributing to this set of privatizing candidates. As with individual campaign donors, there is some tendency to give to multiple candidates resulting in high totals, even to capped campaigns. But again, this is not where the money is; it is how to identify the “orchestrated chorus” of influence. As these tables are updated there will be more information about the donors.

Table 2: Focus on the Committees contributing to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

Table 2: Focus on the Committees contributing to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

Continental Development Corporation, for example, is a commercial special interest that has donated nearly across the set of candidates. Its owners, Richard and Melanie Lundquist, contribute heavily to former republican mayor Richard Riordan’s privatized subset of LA Unified’s schools, “The Partnership for LA Schools.” Melanie Lundquist is a former advisory board president of Teach For America. Their support is categorical.

Also left for later analysis is this summary table of the relative size of contributing sectors to different privatizing candidates. Monica Garcia’s longevity contributes in part to her heavily skewed donations from political and commercial sources.

Collective IEC spending and donations reflect financial hegemony of the underlying donors

Table 3: Focus on the commercial special interests contributing to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

Table 3: Focus on the commercial special interests contributing to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

Individual’s contributions are capped by local election law. But as a result of the SCOTUS decision, Citizen’s United, “corporations [and individuals] can now spend unlimited funds on campaign advertising if they are not formally “coordinating” with a candidate or political party.”

Accordingly while the sum total of donations to these seven candidates to date is under $4m, reported spending on behalf of just one privatization candidate, in one race, in one year, already tops that (Figure 1).

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Boxes are proportional (in area) to IEC spending and curved arrows are proportional (in thickness) to IEC donations. Blue boxes above the dotted horizontal line indicate spending in affirmation of the candidate as opposed to spending from the orange boxes below the dotted horizontal, which represent negative campaigning to oppose the candidate. Therefore each straight arrow represents a “cross sum” proportionally (by thickness) of spending and donations both, on behalf of each candidate, in toto.

Table 4: Categorical summary of the general types of to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

Table 4: Categorical summary of the general types of to school board candidates sympathetic to the “orchestrated chorus” of support for their agenda of privatizing public schools.

The top five entities contributing to or paying vendors are listed for both curved arrows (donations) and boxes (spending). These are listed in the sidebar text box. Just two entities spend on behalf of the privatization candidate. Top donors to those entities in the past two years include Reed Hastings (Netflix, $925K) and the Walton family ($500K). A secondary PAC is employed to obscure contributors, listing contributions of >$6m from the Hastings, Waltons and Fisher families. The remaining two entities to the mega CA Charter Schools Association Advocacy PAC, a lobbying organization for an associated group of “charter schools”, are also individual contributors to charter candidates’ campaigns (see Table 1).

The only other entity contributing to the privatization candidate is SpeakUp, a faux grassroots (“astroturf”) group of parents and professional privateers. The group’s origin hails to the usurpation of former BOE president Zimmer. Its unsuccessful candidate simply joined forces in representing common privatization interests with current board member and charter school supporter, Melvoin. Subsequent to its inception the group opened a 501(c)4 to shield donors’ identity and has exploded in size, donations and staff during the runup to this year’s elections. Yet no monies have been registered with the City, County or State and its funding remains a mystery.

These charter school lobbying associations for the trade comprise the only contributing entities to the privatization candidate’s IECs.

The district candidate in the general election, Scott Schmerelson, is supported by groups supporting and including teachers, including their administrators, staff, labor unions and parents. These are collectives of individuals, not businesses. Unions represent individual people with elected representatives. Lobbying organizations are not an equivalent collective, representing management of a business entity; a collection of collectives, which are themselves not representative of their constituents.

The donor imbalance between donating entities reflects courage of conviction rather than power of purse. Courage campaign, which is a collective IEC for liberal/progressive causes, shows 2-3 orders of magnitude less activity in its singular account with the Secretary of State than even one of CCSA’s several PACs engorged with bottonless refills.

The overall spending imbalance in LAUSD3 is 7:1, offset by Schmerelson’s large base team of current LAUSD3 family volunteers, appreciative of his experience and record of attention for special education, support for teachers and safety for students.

Also reflective of the paucity of experhttps://www.laprogressive.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Comparison-of-IE-expenditures-SS-and-MK-w-inoutput-redrawn-dl-100920-1.pdfience and information that could represent their candidate positively, nearly as much money has been spent negatively to attack the candidacy of the district candidate than to explain the position of the privatization choice.

Figure 1: Relative spending and contributions to the independent expenditure committees supporting the privatization and the district candidate in LAUSD’s third board district.

Figure 1: Relative spending and contributions to the independent expenditure committees supporting the privatization and the district candidate in LAUSD’s third board district.

In contrast spending and donations in LAUSD’s South Bay district 7 is more even overall, with a grand total in progress that clears $10m dollars.

The district candidate’s support is more steadily supportive from the organized teacher’s collective rather than individual volunteer-donors. More money is being spent in opposition to Patricia Castellanos than in introducing her record of public service itself.

Figure 2: Relative spending and contributions to the independent expenditure committees supporting the privatization and the district candidates in LAUSD’s seventh board district.

Figure 2: Relative spending and contributions to the independent expenditure committees supporting the privatization and the district candidates in LAUSD’s seventh board district.

All told spending and contributions to LAUSD’s two school board races is rapidly closing in on $20 million dollars. That’s an order of magnitude more, for just two candidates in two races, than individual contributions to seven candidates across 18 campaigns.

But the constancy of repeating donations tells the deeper story. These contributors comprise the education world’s version of Senator Whitehouse’s “coordinated chorus of amici” briefs. It is the same drive to forego regulations and protections and privatize everything. Just as we would drain our judiciary of neutrality and evenhandedness, these donors, often outsiders, would install a skewed definition of the Commons and public schools. By standardizing education it shall be delivered by contract, in sync with the concomitant bureaucracy conjured to coordinate it.

The business plan maximizes private profit at the expense of collective government and even the very interests of our own children. Coordinated spending and outsized influence menace the idea of democracy: our customary norms stand in peril.

Vote now like your life – and also the promise of educational opportunity – depends on it. Would that our Congress shall do as keenly now too.

Millions have been poured into LAUSD school board races over the past decade. Since the advent of the neoliberal “public school choice” ideology and formal opening of the frontier of public schooling to private wealth extraction, this matter of who controls the seats at the policy table matter more and more.

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Tangible display of this can be seen in the record of large donations to the campaigns themselves. These are often from millionaires and billionaires, usually located nowhere near this district, and almost never with actual, real children attending public schools. The plutocrat class send their children to private schools; the wannabes to charter schools.

Sara Roos
Los Angeles Education Examiner