Peter Dreier, a professor of political science at Occidental College, gives his political analysis of the Los Angeles school board election.
[Nick] Melvoin and his billionaire backers dramatically outspent school board president Steve Zimmer’s campaign, making the District 4 race the most expensive in LAUSD history.
Political pundits will spend the next few days and weeks analyzing the Los Angeles school board election, examining exit polls, spilling lots of ink over how different demographic groups — income, race, religious, union membership, gender, party affiliation, and others — voted on Tuesday.
But the real winner in the race was not Nick Melvoin, but Big Money. And the real loser was not Steve Zimmer, but democracy – and LA’s children.
Who backed Melvoin?
Billionaires, many of whom live far from Los Angeles, bought this election for Melvoin. Their money paid for non-stop TV and radio ads, as well as phone calls, mailers and newspaper ads (including a huge wrap-around ad on the front of Sunday’s LA Times). Melvoin’s billionaire backers paid for 44 mailers and at least $1 million on negative TV ads against Zimmer.
The so-called “Independent” campaign for Melvoin was funded by big oil, big tobacco, Enron and Walmart, and other out-of-town corporations and billionaires. They paid for Melvoin’s ugly, deceptive, and false attack ads against Zimmer, a former teacher and current school board president. Melvoin is so devoted to the corporate agenda for our schools that during the campaign he said that the school district needed a “hostile takeover.”
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who lives in Santa Cruz, donated close to $5 million since last September to the California Charter School Associaton’s political action committee, which poured big bucks into Melvoin’s campaign.
Among the big donors behind Melvoin and the CCSA were members of the Walton family (Alice Walton, Jim Walton, and Carrie Walton Penner) ― heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune from Arkansas, who’ve donated over $2 million to CCSA. Alice Walton (net worth: $36.9 billion), who lives in Texas, was one of the biggest funders behind Melvoin’s campaign. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflicks (net worth: $1.9 billion), who lives in Santa Cruz, donated close to $5 million since last September to the CCSA’s political action committee, including $1 million a week before the election.
Other moguls behind Melvoin and the CCSA include Doris Fisher (net worth: $2.7 billion), co-founder of The Gap, who lives in San Francisco: Texas resident John Arnold (net worth: $2.9 billion), who made a fortune at Enron before the company collapsed, leaving its employees and stockholders in the lurch, then made another fortune as a hedge fund manager; Jeff Yass, who lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and runs the Susquahanna group, a hedge fund; Frank Baxter, former CEO of the global investment bank Jefferies and Company that specialized in “junk” bonds; and Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $48.5 billion), the former New York City mayor and charter champion. Eli Broad (net worth: $7.7 billion), who hatched a plan to put half of all LAUSD students in charter schools by 2023 — an idea that Zimmer fought — donated $400,000 to CCSA last Friday, on top of $50,000 he gave in November. He made his money in real estate and life insurance.
Not surprisingly, most of these billionaires are big backers of conservative Republican candidates and right-wing causes. Several are on the boards of charter school chains.
Citizens United strikes again. Until there are campaign finance limits, big money will win more elections and corrupt our democracy.
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