Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times reports that a secret PAC assembled $2.3 million and funneled it to the political arm of the California Charter Schools Association, which used it to finance the campaigns of three pro-charter school candidates in the recent school board election. Two of the three won their seats, including Ref Rodriguez, who founded and runs a chain of charter schools. The names of the donors were not revealed until the election was over.


Those contributions — from philanthropist Eli Broad, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others — were made prior to the May 19 election to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a political action committee in Sacramento. That group then forwarded campaign funds to a local affiliated committee.


The Los Angeles-based PAC was required by campaign laws only to identify the state charter group as the source of the funding, not the individual donors.


As a result, the donors remained anonymous in Los Angeles campaign filings. In September, the state charter group filed a required state report listing all its contributors.


While the practice appears to be within the law, state campaign regulators said they are concerned about how the contributions remained unreported for so long.


A spokesman for the Charter Association said it turns to outside backers because it would otherwise be outspent by the teachers union. In fact, the CCSA spent $2.7 million, compared to the union’s $1.6 million. So, follow the logic: funding provided from the salaries of teachers is comparable to funding from billionaires like the Waltons, Broad, and Bloomberg.

It’s sad that billionaires have no way to make their voices heard. So they feel compelled to try to buy the school board because they know more than the teachers who work there.



Among the charter donors not disclosed in L.A. filings was Bloomberg, who gave $350,000 in 2015. Bloomberg already had contributed $250,000 in 2014, an amount that was disclosed prior to the election because the funds arrived before the end of 2014.


Other donors from 2015 who were disclosed after the election included:


• Gap clothing co-founder Doris Fisher ($750,000). The longtime charter supporter also gave $550,000 in 2014.


• Wal-Mart Corp. heirs Carrie W. Penner ($150,000) and Jim Walton ($225,000). The two also gave a combined $620,000 in 2014.


• Grower Barbara Grimm ($500,000), owner of one of California’s largest farming operations, who started a charter school near Bakersfield. Grimm also gave $586,400 in 2014.


• Emerson Collective ($150,000), a corporation under the control of Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, which supports charitable and political causes.


• Investor John H. Scully ($100,000). He and his wife also gave $400,000 in 2014.


• Philanthropist Eli Broad ($50,000). He also gave $305,000 to the state charter PAC in 2014.



The issue of so-called “dark money” has touched Broad and the Fisher family before. In the 2012 election, the Fishers gave $9 million and Broad, $1 million, to groups that concealed the sources of these donations. The money was used to oppose a tax increase to fund education and in support of a ballot measure to limit union participation in political campaigns. The tax increase passed, the anti-union measure failed and the dark money maneuvering led to fines for some of the participants, although not the donors.


As in this year’s elections, the mega-donors have not always carried the day. In the 2013 elections, candidates backed by wealthy donors lost two of three contests, including one in which incumbent Steve Zimmer prevailed. He used the identity of the donors as an effective counterpunch to their resources.


“They’re truly funded by and accountable to the 1%,” Zimmer said of the charter advocacy group.