Skip to main content
Nick Melvoin

Nick Melvoin

When parents pretend astroturf is genuine

It’s amazing to see the talking points issuing from 4th LAUSD board district (LAUSD4) candidate Nick Melvoin’s boosters coming from multiple directions, in persistent waves, with identical wording. Social media messages from “just-folks” all feature professional flourishes such as, for example, every single appearance of the candidate’s name typed ALL IN CAPS, and always alongside catchy phrases or paired with hashtags.

Can no one be left to think for themselves and ask genuine questions from within? Must all public expression be focus-grouped? Even reporters seem to be regurgitating identical, manipulated questions.

This contributes to a collective loss-of-confidence among we, the people, that anyone can figure out what information is true and genuine. Conversely we second-guess the validity of even primary sources.

Melvoin’s donors are not local stakeholders of the school district he seeks to control

Let’s consider this aggressively repeated challenge:

How Do You Know Melvoin’s Taking Money From Outsiders”?

Well, the answer is simple to obtain in principle, if difficult in practice: peruse the City of LA ethics website and count the people with out-of-town addresses found there.

As of April 20, 2017, a rough categorization of personal contributions to Nick Melvoin suggests that he received “outside” donations from folks across the country (fig 1) totaling $81K dollars. But note that California is a big place; from Northern California to parts south of Los Angeles, only 41% of his donors are eligible to vote for the LAUSD school board, and only a little more than half the total of personal donations originate from LAUSD4 stakeholders.

Nick Melvoin

Campaign monies exist in two completely different pots

In tracing these patterns of giving to candidate Melvoin, it is critical to understand that campaign money derives from two very different sources (fig 2).

Contributions to the candidate directly are limited in size to $1,100 per election from any given donor. The candidate controls expressions funded by this money; he is accountable for “campaign contributions”.

Nick Melvoin

A second source of money supports the candidate as well, only it has no upper limit on the size of donation permitted. This money is aggregated by a “Committee” for the purpose of making “Independent Expenditures”. The “IEC” is not controlled by the candidate, enabling “plausible deniability” of any message it conveys.

This is the rationale Nick Melvoin claims in disavowing California Charter School Association (CCSA) money, distributed in the name of their copyright-infringing “PTA” (for Parent-Teacher “ALLIANCE”, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CCSA, which is not the venerable Parent-Teacher “Association”, a century-old grassroots organization) or funding from donors who support the Betsy DeVos and Trumpian agenda in Washington DC. Technically this money is “independent” of him, but its function in boosting his candidacy assures an obligation to its ideology.

Which is to say: plutocrats aren’t about to squander their money on candidates who will not deliver for them.

Personal contributions are limited, but suggestive all the same

Because campaign money is composed of donations capped by design, these monies are relatively trivial compared with unregulated contributions from donors of essentially infinite means. For Nick Melvoin’s donor base of plutocrats, the maximum $2,200 campaign contribution ($1100 for each election) is penny-ante chump-change; real giving is made soto-voce to IECs, where contributions are more easily shielded from disclosure. One of these committees particularly active on behalf of Nick Melvoin is run by CCSA. Individual’s contributions to IECs, which themselves as entities then gave to the CCSA’s IEC, totaled $58 million dollars since Steve Zimmer’s last school board election in 2013.

In the meantime all kinds of shenanigans are claimed regarding the “populism” of Melvoin’s campaign fund.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Channeling Bernie Sanders’ populist presidential candidacy where millions of just-plain-folks gave innumerable tiny contributions summing to an astonishing warchest, as of April 20, Melvoin’s campaign fund listed 1,577 contributions totaling $543,557, or $345/donation. This is a far cry from Sander’s famous average $27 donation. And many of these just-plain-folks are giving money on a ‘sustainer-plan’ of automatic payments; only 1093 of these contributions are from unique donors. The true average is therefore nearly $500/person and betrays a distribution that looks absolutely nothing like Sander’s. Just 2% of Melvoin’s donors contributed under $100 to his campaign and more than half his donors contributed over $500.


When billionaires’ interests converge

Among Melvoin’s contributors are an uncommon number of billionaires as well as others uninhibited by ponying up the maximum donation (for fun cfthis). His power base includes ten billionaires (from nine billionaire-families listed among Forbes’400 richest families), even while his own family members have contributed $13K. For reference consider that at this list’s compiling (2015), the DeVos family was ranked #88 in wealth in America, and estimated to be worth $5.4b:

Melvoin’s campaign donors are heavily associated with hardball Charter politics in Los Angeles and beyond.


Billionaires are not the only donors of note to Melvoin’s personal campaign. Charter operators are well-represented, in particular KIPP and Alliance Charter schools. Frank Baxter and family, for example, is one of five members of KIPP’s governing board who are personal contributors to this campaign. There are six donors associated with Alliance College-Ready Charters and five from the CCSA itself.

˚Correction: Frank Baxter sits on the board of Alliance College-Ready (Charter) Schools; the five members of KIPP’s national board who contributed personally to Melvoin’s campaign are {J Fisher, E Bloomberg, Don Fisher, M Karsh, Doris Fisher; K Bradley contributed after original data collection above}. Martha Karsh, wife of Bruce Karsh who is chair of the Tribune Company which owns the LATimes, chairs KIPP:LA’s board of trustees. Nine (of 15) of KIPP:LA’s board of directors are direct donors to Melvoin’s campaign; three (of 10) of KIPP:LA’s board of trustees are.

Charter ideologues represent approximately 14% of the donations received. Even more strongly represented are financiers: venture capitalists and money managers, bankers and investors. These comprise roughly 18% of the donations. Note that the error rate associated here with these estimates is inherently large as categorizations were made quickly and roughly, without deep research; as well donors were associated with just one category though these characteristics are hardly independent (e.g., it is possible to be both charter ideologue and financier). The analysis is very crude but was motivated by partisan claims that charterizers were not disproportionately represented among Melvoin’s donors, which is patently untrue.

At 8% of the donor population attorneys were surprisingly well-represented, perhaps to be expected given the candidate’s profession. Both of Steve Zimmer’s recent challengers (first Melvoin, then the penultimate Kate Anderson) issued from the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, with which several donors are also associated (one of whom, Jesse Creed, is also the recent political challenger to Los Angeles council district 5’s incumbent). With its historical ties to Real Estate the firm has evolved into an incubator of legal activism, a nexus between education, politics and Education Reform.

Melvoin’s donor base also strongly reflects his family’s position among Hollywood’s production-class, with writers, producers, PR-, marketing- and talent-executives comprising at least another 15%. Despite the pretense of ‘just-folks’ involvement in this campaign, the evidence shows overwhelming saturation of a leadership class of business executives, entrepreneurs and land developers. Melvoin’s people are not ordinary constituents passing daily through LAUSD’s school house doors. These are an extremely rarefied set of LA’s ruling class, the managers and not the workers of this great city.

Meet the new ruling class

Among the luminaries present in the list excerpted below from Melvoin’s 1,093 direct campaign donors, are several big name, big-spending Charter School investor-sustainers. Reed Hastings, for example, is the second-largest donor to CCSA’s IECs since 2013, having given approximately $11m to their IEC directly and via other IECs that in turn gave to the CCSA IEC. He gave maximally ($1100) to Melvoin’s first election but has failed so far to chip in for the second.

Other big rollers behind the scenes putting in a nominal appearance upfront to Melvoin’s private campaign fund are: Hedge fund titans John & Laura (+ Linda) Arnold ($2.4m to CCSA, $4400 to Nick); Alliance charterers Frank & KathrineBaxter ($272K to CCSA, $3300 to Nick); Vergara and serial EdReform organization pioneers Bill & Susan Bloomfield ($3.2m to CCSA, $4400 to Nick); Gap, Inc. scions and investment maven family Fisher ($10m to CCSA, $6600* to Nick); LA’s own hometown corporate-Charter privateers Dick Riordan and theBroads ($2.1m and $3.9m respectively to CCSA, with $1100 and $4400 to the campaign respectively). And their NYC counterpart the Bloomberg family ($2.6m to CCSA, $1000* to Nick), alongside Joel Klein ($1100 to Nick).

There are plenty more plutocrats massaging Melvoin’s “independent” campaign. For example Alliance Charter theoristOuichi ($2K to CCSA, $2200* to Nick); Belkin CEO turned Edupreneur Pipkin ($10K to CCSA, $3300 to Nick); Rocketship Charterer-venture capitalist Arthur Rock ($2.3m to CCSA, $1100* to Nick); Alliance charterers Neuwirth ($5K to CCSA, $3300 to Nick); Apple widow and charter devotee Laurene PowellJobs ($650K to CCSA, $2200 to Nick); and that funnel between national and local charter politics, Charlie Munger ($100K to CCSA, $0 to Nick), whose law firm is so politically fecund.

In local power-politics is Munger’s children’s family Cherninknown for social activism ($2200* to Nick), LATimes mogul and editorializer the Karsh family ($4400 to Nick) and from there down into less stratospheric realms of giving, populated by former LAUSD BOD chair Marlene Canter ($750* to Nick), none other than true architect of the disgraced ipod project himself, our man former superintendent Deasy ($500 to Nick), Parent revolutionaries Dan Chang ($325* to Nick) and Clayton Rosa($250 to Nick).

Then there is regional giving of notable association; 16% of Melvoin’s half-million-plus dollar kitty hails from one zipcode in hometown Brentwood. Giving from the city-state of Pacific Palisades comprises 8% of Melvoin’s personal total. Collectively this “upper westside” (as in geographically elevated) region has incubated CCSA’s next anointed challenger, nurtured by original public choice crusader, subsequent KIPP fundraiser and County BOE member Katie Braude ($500 to Nick), who established multiple outlets for the purpose of electing a native CCSA candidate to office. Support from his supporters is quantified among, for example, families Hontz ($1100 to Nick), Maza ($125 to Nick), Marek ($100 to Nick) and Anton ($100 to Nick), among others, very active on the ground and online in paid and other voluntary, opaque capacities.

Also entertaining to note among his supporters are employees of the politically reactive Kushner Companies, Bain & Company, plenty of Real Estate moguls, lawyers and investors.

Without further ado here is a sparsely annotated list of the 244 contributors donating more than $1,000 not-tax-deductible dollars to Melvoin’s campaign personally. A more carefully annotated list of CCSA donors from the past four years is found in the last table here for cross-reference: Melvoin Personal Donors Above 1K

At last extraction (11am, 5/11/17), personal donations to Melvoin’s campaign have actually increased by 31% in two weeks to $712,174.55. Independent expenditures in favor of candidate Melvoin total $1,911,555.74 and independent expenditures devoted to trashing his opponent top the mind-bogglingly unconscionable$2,741,315.63 figure. That is, nice Nick Melvoin’s “friends” are of a nature to spend almost 50% more defaming his opponent than boosting his own merits.


Sara Roos

* Accordingly, contributions with an asterisk have increased – spectacularly in some cases – since the charts here were published.