The California Charter School Association (CCSA), directly and through its network of entities, has been the biggest spender in the 2017 election for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board members to represent Districts 4 and 6, having spent over $4 million to-date. Nearly all of CCSA’s political campaign funding comes from millionaires and billionaires. Out-of-town billionaires make up the bulk of this funding.
Between July 2016 – December 2016, out-of-town billionaires like Doris Fisher, Co-Founder of The Gap, Alice Walton, heiress to the WalMart fortune, and Michael Bloomberg, New York financier and former Mayor, all made big political contributions to the California Charter School Association Advocates (CCSAA) Independent Expenditure Committee.
The combined net worth of these three out-of-town billionaires is $125.5 BILLION. Doris Fisher lives in San Francisco, Alice Walton lives in Bentonville, Arkansas and Michael Bloomberg lives in New York City.
Additionally, numerous contributors to the CCSAA political fund are Trump supporters, a position that puts them out-of-sync with the majority of Los Angeles voters.
Alice Walton and the WalMart family, for example, donated to the Super PAC that worked to elect Trump, donated to Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, and to the Alliance for School Choice, an organization that Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos helped to lead. Richard Riordan, who gave $1 milion to CCSAA to then launch an independent expenditure committee working to elect Melvoin and Gonez, is a Trump supporter and donor. [i] Many others CCSAA donors are as well.
CCSA has poured money into these school board races directly through its Independent Expenditure Committee, [ii] and has also acting as a pass through for three other independent expenditure committees that are involved in the race.
- CCSAA sponsors and funds[iii] the deceptively named Parent Teacher Alliance (PTA), also a big electoral spender.
- The PTA, CCSAA helps fund[iv] the Students for Education Reform (SFER) Action Network, which also spent money on this election.
- LA Students for Change Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board 2017 is funded by a $1,000,000 donation[v] from former LA Mayor Richard Riordan that was received through CCSAA
According to available filings,[vi] CCSAA and the groups it funds have provided almost all the independent electoral spending on behalf of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez in the hotly contested District 4 and 6 races.
- District 4: of the reported independent expenditures on behalf of Melvoin — $2,415,345 in the primary and $768,316 in the general, or $3,183,661 in total – almost all were filed by CCSAA with Eli Broad and Speak UP – Supporting Nick Melvoin for School Board 2017 contributing the rest.
- District 6: all reported independent expenditures on behalf of Gonez — $739,821 in the primary and $588,564 in the general, or $1,328,385 in total — were filed by the CCSAA and PTA.
CCSAA has acted as a conduit for millions in campaign contributions flowing into the Los Angeles school board race, and while we know the identities of donors through 2016, the people of Los Angeles won’t know the identities of the more recent donors until well after the election.
Hidden Money Donors Opposing Public Education Funding Strike Again
Since the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United we’ve seen an explosion in hidden money (so-called “dark money”) pouring into political races fueled by corporate self-interest, a desire for the super wealthy to lower their taxes and/or to privatize the functions of government. These races have typically been big races for the control of the House, Senate, Governor’s mansion or the presidency. In Los Angeles, we’re now watching a flood of billionaire dollars into two district school board races.
While California political races and propositions have been the target of hidden money in the past, then Attorney General Kamala Harris set the precedent in 2012 by unmasking the billionaire assault on school funding that was coordinated by the Koch network. That subsequent court case and unmasking revealed the names of dozens of political donors who secretly moved money to oppose a millionaire’s tax – Proposition 30 – to fund public education. This list of donors against Prop 30 included the Fisher family, Bill and Margaret Bloomfield, Sheldon Adelson and Eli Broad.
Distressingly, if you’re a Los Angeles resident in School Board District 4 or 6, at least some of the individuals who were involved in funneling dark money to fight school funding in 2012 are now funneling millions of dollars into slick attack ads targeting Steve Zimmer and Imelda Padilla for school board. And because of the mid-year timing of the election and California’s disclosure laws, there’s no way to have the full picture of who are the funders behind these independent expenditure campaigns.
What we do know, from available reporting on contributions to independent expenditure committees and contributions made directly to the campaigns of Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez, is that the network of super wealthy donors from outside of Los Angeles who have been pouring money into these two school board races includes many donors with ties to Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump.
Unmasking the Corporate Billionaires Behind the School Board Race
The campaign contributors that provided most of the funding for CCSAA in the second half of 2016 were out-of-town billionaires.
In addition, many CCSAA donors share other traits. A number of them are backers of Trump and DeVos, a political leaning that is out-of-sync with the majority of Los Angeles voters. In addition, many CCSAA donors secretly funneled millions through the Koch network in 2012 to oppose millionaire’s tax, Prop 30, to education funding in California – another position out-of-sync with local voters. Some of these donors are profiled below as well.
Some of CCSAA’s Out-of-Town Billionaire Donors
The Fisher Family
- Big Donor: In 2015 and 2016, Doris Fisher gave $4.1 million[vii] to CCSAA and $383,000[viii] to EdVoice.
- Billionaire: The Fishers are the founders of the Gap, which also spawned BabyGap, Old Navy, and the Banana Republic. She is worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.[ix] In 2013 the Christian Science Monitor labeled her[x] the 8th richest “self-made” woman in the world.
- Outsider: Doris Fisher lives in San Francisco
- Conservative Donor: Over the past two decades, Fisher and Gap Inc PAC have donated thousands of dollars to politicians like Bill Frist,[xi] Rudy Giuliani,[xii] Tommy Thompson,[xiii] Tom Delay,[xiv] George W. Bush,[xv] Mitt Romney,[xvi] John McCain,[xvii] Eric Cantor,[xviii] Kevin McCarthy,[xix] and Carly Fiorina,[xx] as well as a PAC[xxi] that have given to Marco Rubio [xxii] and Tea Partiers Ted Cruz [xxiii] and Joe Wilson.[xxiv] Fisher’s corporation, the Gap, has been prominently tied to child labor [xxv] practices and sweatshops [xxvi] in third world countries.
- Secret Koch Funds to Oppose School Funding For California: The Fisher family funneled more than $10 million to oppose Proposition 30 through the Koch network in 2012.
- Billionaire: Bloomberg’s net worth is estimated at 5 billion as of March 2017, ranking him as the 8th richest person in the United States and the 10th richest person in the world. He made his money in the financial services industry.
- Outsider: Michael Bloomberg lives in New York City
The Walton Family
- Big Donors: In 2015 and 2016, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner gave a combined $2,229,000 [xxviii] to CCSAA and a combined $3,948,000 [xxix] to EdVoice.
- Billionaire Corporate Heirs: The Walton family, heirs to the fortune of WalMart founder Sam Walton, is the richest family in the US, worth $130 billion,[xxx] according to Forbes.
- Outsiders: The family is based in Bentonville, Arkansas and Carrie Walton Penner lives in the Bay Area.[xxxi]
- DeVos Ties: Until her appointment as Secretary of Education, Devos chaired [xxxii] the pro-charter American Federation for Children (AFC). In an interview, DeVos claimed [xxxiii] that the AFC is “the umbrella organization that is affiliated with the Alliance for School Choice.” Inside Philanthropy [xxxiv] reports that the Alliance for School Choice “has been heavily supported by Walton Foundation over the years, with grants totaling over $20 million.” Indeed, Walmart Family Foundation 990 filings [xxxv] reveal millions of dollars in donations to the Alliance for School Choice. They also show that Betsy DeVos and Carrie Walton Penner both served as [xxxvi] Alliance for School Choice board members [xxxvii] together for multiple years. Senior education leadership supported were cheerleaders for DeVos after [xxxviii] Donald Trump nominated her to the Department of Education.
- Conservative Donors and Trump Ties: The Waltons have donated, personally and through their PAC,[xxxix] to conservative politicians like Trent Lott,[xl] Mitt Romney,[xli] and Mitch McConnell,[xlii] and to Tea Partiers like Michelle Bachmann,[xliii] Ted Cruz,[xliv] and Timothy Huelskamp.[xlv] They also gave to Trump allies like Mike Pence [xlvi] and Jeff Sessions [xlvii] (who they donated to as recently as 2016), and they have donated big to PACs like 21st Century Majority Fund [xlviii] that gave thousands to Donald Trump.[xlix]
Other Major CCSAA Donors Out-of-Sync with Local Voters
- Big Donor: In December 2016, Riordan gave a whopping $1,000,000 [l] to “LA Students for Change, Opposing Steve Zimmer for School Board 2017”, with CCSAA acting as the intermediary.
- Trump Supporter: Former Los Angeles mayor (1993-2001) and private equity firm head Richard Riordan is a backer of supporter of conservative politicians and causes, including [li] Donald Trump.
John and Laura Arnold
- Big Donors: In March 2016, the Arnolds donated $1,000,000 [lii] to CCSAA. In August 2016, they donated $250,000 [liii] to EdVoice.
- Hedge Fund Billionaire: John D. Arnold is a retired hedge fund manager.[liv] Forbes estimates he’s worth $2.9 billion.[lv]
- Big Donor: Grimm-Marshall gave $500,000 [lvii][lviii] to CCSAA in mid-May 2015. She has been celebrated by CCSA [lix] as a charter advocate.
- Trump Donor: She gave [lx] a total[lxi] of[lxii] $83,100[lxiii] to Donald Trump’s electoral run. Grimm-Marshall has also given to other GOP politicians, such and Mitt Romney,[lxiv] Carly Fiorina,[lxv] and Kevin McCarthy.[lxvi]
- Big Donor: In 2015 and 2016, Bloomfield gave $3,156,000 [lxvii] to EdVoice. He lives in Manhattan Beach, California.
- Right-Wing Funder: Bloomfield is chairman [lxviii] of Baron Real Estate and a longtime backer of conservative politicians. He fundraised for John McCain’s presidential run and has[lxix] given[lxx] $20,000[lxxi] to John Boehner. Bloomfield has also donated more than $30,000 [lxxii] to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has given to [lxxiii] Mike Pence, Steve King, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, Devin Nunes, and others.
- Koch Network: Documents obtained from the attorney general Kamala Harris indicate that Bloomfield used the Koch network to secretly funnel money to efforts to undermine education funding.
Frank T. Baxter
- Big Donor: From December 2015 to June 2016, Baxter gave CCSAA $100,000.[lxxiv] Since April 2015 he has given $53,000 [lxxv] to EdVoice.
- Right-wing Funder: According to the FEC, Baxter has donated to dozens and dozens of conservative politicians across the US, including $2,700 [lxxvi] to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and thousands [lxxvii] to Congressman Paul Ryan. He even once donated to Iowa Congressman Steve King, a Tea Party politician who has a long history [lxxviii] of making racist, bigoted statements. Baxter has also given to Mitch McConnell,[lxxix] Eric Cantor,[lxxx] Devin Nunes,[lxxxi] and Lindsay Graham.[lxxxii]
- Koch Prop 30 Funder: Cynthia Stone funneled $10,000 [lxxxiii] to the campaign to oppose proposition 30 funding in 2012 according to record released by then Attorney General Kamala Harris.
- DeVos Ties: Jim Blew was an adviser on funding to the Walton Family Foundation [lxxxv] and directed campaigns for Betsy DeVos’s Alliance for School Choice.[lxxxvi]
- Records obtained by former Attorney General Kamala Harris indicate that Eli Broad funneled $1 million secretly to oppose proposition 30 [lxxxvii] through the Koch network.
Jeffrey Yass and Susquehanna Group
- Donation: Recent reports indicate that Jeff Yass has given the maximum allowed contribution to Nick Melvoin.
- Out of State: The Susquahanna group is a hedge fund located in the Philadelphia suburbs. Over the years they’ve funneled tens of millions [lxxxviii]of dollars to races [lxxxix] to support their preferred candidates across the country.
- Trump / DeVos Ties: Jeffrey Yass, Joel Greenberg and Arthur Dantchik of the Susquehanna group started StudentsFirst PA,[xc] the Pennsylvania partner organization [xci] of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation of Children.