In Partnership with 74

UTLA campaign supporting Zimmer now under full investigation; outside spending jumps $1 million in a week to $5.4 million

Sarah Favot | March 6, 2017

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

This is the mailer that is under investigation.

This is the mailer that is under investigation.

The Fair Political Practices Commission will investigate spending by United Teachers Los Angeles on a public relations campaign supporting LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who is running for reelection.

The chief of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division notified Keith Dell’Aquila, who filed a complaint, Thursday that it will investigate the complaint, according to a copy of the letter. Previously, the complaint was under review; the FPPC has now opened an investigation into the complaint.

“However, please be advised that at this time we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s) you have made or about the culpability, if any, of the person(s) you identify in your complaint,” the letter states.

The letter arrived five days before Tuesday’s primary, where Zimmer’s and two other LA Unified school board seats are up for election.

At issue is whether the PR campaign funded by UTLA’s Issues PAC should be reported as an independent expenditure. Issues PACs can be used to educate voters but not advocate. The mailer in question states, “Thank Steve Zimmer for keeping L.A. schools moving forward.” It does not mention the election specifically nor uses the word “vote.”

Dell’Aquila, who works for the California Charter Schools Association, alleges the campaign violates the Political Reform Act. He argued in the complaint that the advertisement “contains express advocacy.”

District 6 candidate Kelly Fitzpatrick-Gonez filed a separate FPPC complaint last week regarding a UTLA billboard with Imelda Padilla’s image that says: “Thanks, Imelda Padilla, for supporting public schools!” and points to the website The complaint alleges the billboard violates the Political Reform Act’s advertisement disclaimer provisions. The FPPC responded Friday that the complaint is part of its existing investigation.

“Since the allegations in your complaint are the subject of an existing investigation, we will not open a new complaint on this matter,” the letter states.

Outside spending in the race reached about $5.4 million as of late Friday, just four days before the primary, campaign finance records filed with the city Ethics Commission show. Outside groups poured in about $1 million into the three races within the last week.

UTLA has spent $1.6 million through its independent expenditure committee, and other labor groups have spent about $300,000.

Two committees associated with the California Charter Schools Association Advocates have spent $2 million. An independent expenditure committee funded by former LA Mayor Richard Riordan has spent about $1.3 million.

One mailer that opposes two of Zimmer’s opponents, Nick Melvoin and Allison Holdorff Polhill, funded by UTLA’s independent expenditure committee is the subject of a petition created by parents and teachers of the City Charter Schools.

The mailer states, “Both Melvoin and Polhill are for-profit school advocates — Melvoin even sits on the board of City Charter Schools — and would promote for-profit charter schools over local public schools.”

City Charter Schools are run by a nonprofit organization. It consists of The City School, a middle school, and City Language Immersion School, an elementary school. Its high school located on the westside of LA closed shortly after the school year started after struggling with low enrollment and facilities. Melvoin stepped down from the board shortly after he announced his decision to run more than a year ago. Both Melvoin and Polhill have said they do not support for-profit schools. There aren’t any for-profit charter schools in Los Angeles.

The petition is an appeal to Zimmer to “help us stop attacks on our beloved school” and asks him to “publicly repudiate the defaming of our school and ask your backers to stop the attack on us.” It has 380 signatures so far.

IEs must not coordinate with candidates.

Read Next