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Election ’13: Undisclosed Donors?

Samantha Oltman | November 16, 2012

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Independent expenditure (IE) committees are poised to once again spend millions in the upcoming March 2013 LAUSD Board election, but despite city disclosure laws, the information available to the public is limited and uneven.

One of the main reasons is that while the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission requires IE committees to disclose all contributions, it excludes individual donations below $100, which can remain anonymous.

This means that information about IE donations is especially incomplete for union-backed IEs, such as UTLA-PACE, the teachers union political committee, which generally rely on smaller individual donations made by members on a monthly basis.

UTLA-PACE is the biggest and most consistently active IE in LAUSD elections and has spent millions of dollars influencing the outcomes of school board races since 2007. Other IEs keeping company with UTLA-PACE include the Coalition for School Reform and an IE run by the local branch of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Based on city documents requested by LA School Report, in the 2011 LAUSD Board race, almost all of UTLA-PACE’s contributions come from monthly payroll deductions solicited with an enrollment form (pictured), ranging in amounts from $8 to $45.

According to Ethics Commission disclosure documents, UTLA-PACE collected $128,750 between February and April 2011. But not a single donor is listed on its disclosure forms.

In the case of the IE for the Coalition for School Reform, the opposite is true: between February and April 2011, only $600 of $205,800 came from unknown donors who contributed less than $100. Most of its contributors gave in increments over $100, so their identities are public.

City and state laws say that if a donor’s contributions to a committee add up to $100 or more in a calendar year, the contributor’s information must be reported to the Ethics Commission.  But beyond a system of random, infrequent audits, unitemized donations of less than $100 are not closely monitored.

“If a contribution is between $25 and $99, the committee has to get the contributor’s name and address and keep it in their records,” said Tara Stock, a representative for the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).  “But it’s not required to be disclosed on a campaign form.”

When LA School Report asked if the current disclosure rules resemble an honors system, Stock said, “I guess you could call it that—but there are requirements as far as record keeping, and if there’s a complaint or random audit, they have to submit their records of everyone who’s contributed to them.”

Previous posts: Attack Ads on the Horizon, Dark Money Dominates LAUSD Elections, Campaign ’13: Candidates To Watch

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