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Charter group tells LAUSD board contribution process was lawful

Craig Clough | December 3, 2015

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Eli Broad

The executive director of the state charter schools political action committee sent an email to the LA Unified school board and other district officials yesterday, offering a sharp response to a story in the Los Angeles Times that was highly critical of the group’s campaign finance reporting practices.

“I am reaching out to you to ensure that you have the facts, which are sadly neglected in this article,” wrote Gary Borden, executive director of California Charter School Association Advocates. “Unfortunately, the Times has decided to turn common and fully legal electoral practice into ‘gotcha’ politics. The article simply does not reflect the reality or the integrity of our electoral practices.”

The article highlighted how donors to a political action committee who funneled millions of dollars into this year’s LA Unified school board races were “shielded” from having their identify revealed until after the May 19 election. The donors included high-profile charter school supporters, including Eli Broad, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Carrie W. Penner of the Walton family.

At issue was the fact that donations were made to a Sacramento-based PAC, which then gave the money to a Los Angeles-based PAC that supported the election efforts of three CCSA-endorsed candidates. The article points out that if the contributions had been made directly to the local PAC, the donors’ names would have been revealed before the election.

The article stated that the practice “appears to be within the law” but quoted several officials and academics who were critical of the practice. Due to the multi-step process of moving the money from the Sacramento PAC to the local PAC, the donors’ names were not publicly revealed until September, when CCSA Advocates was required by law to disclose its contributors in a California campaign finance report.

Borden said this practice was nothing but routine.

“We are very proud of our compliance and transparency record. The Fair Political Practices Commission and our independent auditors have consistently found our reporting to be fully compliant,” he wrote. “In the case of the last school board elections here in Los Angeles, we formed a local entity to communicate with voters, which received funding from a statewide political action committee — which is routine in the world of modern political campaigning.”

The local PAC, named Parent Teacher Alliance in Support of Rodriguez, Galatzan, and Vladovic for School Board 2015, spent $2.7 million in supporting the reelection efforts of Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic and for the election of Ref Rodriguez. The LA teachers union, UTLA, spent about $1.6 million supporting Scott Schmerelson, who defeated Galatzan, and former board member Bennett Kayser, who lost to Rodriguez.

Both UTLA and the CCSA Advocates supported Vladovic, who won reelection.

The Times article comes as the issue of charter schools — and their deep-pocketed supporters — is being raised to new heights in the district. In August, a $490 million charter school expansion plan backed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation was publicly revealed. The stated goal of the plan was to eventually have half of all district students enrolled in charter schools, which immediately drew the ire of some board members and UTLA.

Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded institutions that typically employ non-union teachers. LA Unified already has more charter schools than any district in the nation, and since the plan would drain the district’s enrollment and reduce UTLA membership, it has been controversial.

Since the plan was revealed, a non-profit separate from the Broad Foundation was formed to support the charter expansion plan, and the group has stated it will also fund traditional schools.

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