In Partnership with The 74

Unreported UTLA spending comes under review as official outside money in LAUSD board race tops $4 million

Sarah Favot | February 24, 2017



This is the mailer that is under review.

This is the mailer that is under review.

With just over a week to go before the primary election, outside spending in the LA Unified school board race has topped $4 million with pro-charter and education reform groups making up more than half that total, while an unknown amount has been spent by UTLA on a public relations campaign in support of board President Steve Zimmer.

Independent expenditure committees that are funded by charter school and education reform supporters have spent about $2.6 million on the race so far, while committees funded by unions have spent about $1.4 million as of late Friday, according to the latest filings with the city Ethics Commission.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is reviewing a complaint filed against United Teachers Los Angeles regarding a mailer it sent, FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed. The question is whether the mailer falls under required reporting disclosures for independent expenditures. The mailer was paid for by a UTLA Issues PAC filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, which has its own reporting requirements.

The mailer in question says “Thank Steve Zimmer for keeping L.A. schools moving forward” and has images of Zimmer, according to a copy of the FPPC complaint filed by Keith Dell’Aquila. A disclosure states it was paid for by “United Teachers Los Angeles Political Action Council of Educators (PACE) Issues.”

The PAC is not filed with the LA City Ethics Commission. Its most recent reported expenditures are for ballot measures in November’s statewide election, according to the secretary of state’s website. Issues PACs are intended to inform, not advocate.

Dell’Aquila alleges UTLA violated the Political Reform Act by failing to follow independent expenditure committee reporting requirements.

“The advertisement unmistakably contains express advocacy. Although no magic words of ‘vote,’ ‘support,’ or ‘elect’ are used, the mailer taken as a whole is susceptible to no reasonable interpretation other than an appeal to vote for Steve Zimmer. The mailer does not attempt to convince any policymaker to take a course of action or refrain from one. It has no connection with any event or issue other than to promote Steve Zimmer and present his time on the LAUSD Board in a positive light,” Dell’Aquila said in the complaint.

“The timing of such promotion would serve no other purpose than to bolster Steve Zimmer’s public profile leading up to the election,” Dell’Aquila added.

According to the city Ethics Commission, an independent expenditure “is an expenditure made by any person in connection with a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified LAUSD candidate or ballot measure or, taken as a whole, unambiguously urges a particular result in an LAUSD election.”

The mailer in question does not say “vote for Steve Zimmer” nor lists the election day. It states, “Call and thank Steve Zimmer for keeping our schools strong and accountable.”

If an IE spends more than $1,000 on communications to support or oppose a candidate, it must be reported to the Ethics Commission within 24 hours, according to city laws.

A UTLA spokeswoman and President Alex Caputo-Pearl did not respond to a request for comment.  

The UTLA Issues PAC has also paid for a website, KeepLAschoolsmoving.com, which uses similar slogans of thanking Zimmer and says “Join us in calling on the school board to continue supporting Steve Zimmer’s work to keep our schools moving forward!”  

According to a news release from contender Nick Melvoin’s campaign, the UTLA Issues PAC has also funded billboards, digital advertising, and another mailer.

“In this era of Citizens United, transparency is the best check against corruption,” Zack Czajkowski, Melvoin’s campaign manager, said in a news release. “This lack of transparency and dark money associated with UTLA PACE and CTA is highly concerning. We are glad the FPPC is looking into these practices.”

On Friday, Wierenga said he couldn’t find out if any other complaints have been filed in the LAUSD board races until Monday.

Any complaints filed with the city Ethics Commission are confidential.

CANDIDATE SPENDING

Ten candidates for three seats have raised more than $1.1 million and spent about $683,000, records show.

Candidates Mónica García, Nick Melvoin, and Kelly Gonez, who are all endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association, continue to lead fundraising efforts in their respective races. The candidate committee filings, which were updated Thursday, show totals reported through Feb. 18.

• Read more: LA School Report covers the 2017 LAUSD school board race: See all 13 candidate profiles

When it comes to spending by independent expenditure committees, Zimmer, who is running for re-election in District 4, has been the biggest target. Outside groups have spent the most money supporting and opposing him of any candidate, $816,775 and $1,353,129, respectively.

If spending continues at the same pace, it is on track to be the most expensive race in school board history. In 2013, when the same seats were up for re-election, outside groups spent a total of $5.3 million and candidates spent $1.1 million in the primary election. That race is considered the most expensive in school board history — a total of $6.2 million was spent in the primary and general elections by outside groups and candidates spent $1.3 million.

BOARD DISTRICT 2

In board District 2, which encompasses Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, García has a commanding fundraising lead totaling $198,090. She has spent more than any other candidate in any of the three races so far — $187,373.

García is running for her fourth and final term. She is the longest-serving member of the school board.

Challenger Lisa Alva, an English teacher at Bravo Medical Magnet High School and a first-time school board candidate, has raised $11,846 and spent $6,806.

Carl J. Petersen, a parent and businessman who unsuccessfully ran for the District 3 seat in 2015, has raised $2,740 and spent $1,916.

BOARD DISTRICT 4

In board District 4, which spans from the Westside through portions of the San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood to East Hollywood, challenger Melvoin, an attorney and educator and the first candidate to jump into the race a year ago, has raised $388,723 and spent $145,179.

Zimmer, who is running for his third and final term, has raised $159,812 and spent $86,974.

Allison Holdorff Polhill, a parent and former board member of Palisades Charter High School, has raised $103,490 and spent $102,542.

Greg Martayan, who owns a public relations firm and is a Los Angeles Police Department reserve specialist and parent, has raised $67,675 and spent $37,520.

BOARD DISTRICT 6

In board District 6, located in the east San Fernando Valley, Gonez, a middle school science teacher at Crown Preparatory Academy, has raised $108,364 and spent $34,722.

Imelda Padilla, a community organizer, has raised $61,845 and spent $43,216.

Araz Parseghian, a parent who works in finance and is a member of the LA Valley College Foundation, has raised $41,610 and spent $35,969.

Former state Assemblywoman Patty López, education advocate Gwendolyn Posey, and Jose Sandoval, an animal rights educator, are also running for the seat but have not reported raising more than $1,000.

OUTSIDE MONEY

The most money that has been spent in the race has come from independent expenditure committees, which do not have contribution limits like candidate committees. Independent expenditure committees that spend money in support of or opposition to a candidate must not coordinate with the candidate.

LA Students for Change is an independent expenditure committee that is funded by former LA Mayor Richard Riordan and has spent the most of any other outside group so far — $1,317,824 as of Friday. All of it has been spent on mailers, TV commercials and online ads to oppose Zimmer.   

Students, Parents and Educators in Support of Padilla and Zimmer for school board 2017, sponsored by Teachers Unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles has spent $1,170,390 as of Friday:

$754,104 to support Zimmer

$222,159 to support Padilla

$105,626 to oppose Melvoin

$88,500 to oppose Polhill

Parent Teacher Alliance, which is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, has spent $794,038.96:

$323,761 to support Melvoin

$234,258 to support Polhill

$165,837 to support Gonez

$35,304 to oppose Zimmer

$34,878 to support García

California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee has spent $460,164:

$337,346 to support Gonez

$64,698 to oppose Lopez

$58,120 to support García

Service Employees International Union Local 99 Independent Expenditure PAC has spent $173,640:

$142,115 to support García

$31,525 to support Padilla

Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO Council on Political Education has spent $44,573 to support Zimmer.

Valley Voters United for Imelda Padilla for School Board and Monica Rodriguez for City Council 2017 has spent $36,177 to support Padilla.

Political Action Council of Educators, sponsored by teachers unions including United Teachers Los Angeles, has spent $18,819:

$15,709 to support Zimmer

$3,110 to support Padilla

Students for Education Reform Action Network, which is based in New York City, spent $15,609 to support García.

Richard Riordan reported spending $15,000 on an email blast supporting Melvoin.

Service Employees International Union Local 99 spent has $9,717:

$3,665 to support García

$3,665 to support Padilla

$2,388 to support Zimmer


LA School Report covers the 2017 LAUSD school board race: See all 13 candidate profiles

Monday evening District 4 forum:  The forum will be moderated by UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies Professor Pedro Noguera. It will be held Monday, Feb. 27, from 6-8 p.m. at the Skirball Cultural Center and is co-organized by VoteLAUSD, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, and Junior State of America. Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will make introductory remarks. 

For more: VoteLAUSD has compiled useful information on each of the candidates to help voters make their decisions and to help people easily share information with their friends. Click on the candidates in your district to see comments from the community, who’s endorsing whom and who’s funding each campaign and independent expenditure committee.

Read Next