Slightly more than a year after going into effect, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision is having a profound effect on national and local politics.
Citizens United — as it is commonly called — reversed the ban on corporate spending on political broadcasts and introduced the rather controversial notion that corporations should be treated the same as ordinary citizens under the First Amendment.
With independent expenditures totaling well over $3 million, the Los Angeles Unified school board election has become a battle of special interests — of unions, charter schools, and surprisingly, stadium operators — and the candidate winning the greatest share of that pie is Luis Sanchez in District 5.
At first glance, the race seems to be a battle of the unions. Independent expenditures — both supporting and opposing Sanchez — have totaled about $955,000. More than a third of that money has come from the Service Employees International Union, which raised nearly $335,000 in support of Sanchez. And United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), which sponsors candidate Bennett Kayser, has spent a little more than $322,000 opposing him.
But the nearly $255,000 spent by the Coalition for School Reform to support Sanchez makes it one of the key players in this election, which is now just a day away. And among the coalition's biggest spenders is Phil Anschutz of the Anschutz Corporation, whose sister company AEG has plans before the city for a $350 million football stadium in Downtown Los Angeles (which could top $1 billion when factoring in interest repayment).
So, what links a major corporation with dreams of building an NFL stadium to a candidate for LAUSD school board? Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
In a small two-bedroom apartment in Van Nuys with brown shag carpeting and a cottage cheese ceiling, a French kid named Alexis sits at a desk with headphones, staring at his MacBook through black-frame glasses. As Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik plays from a boom box, Alexis' computer dials phone numbers until someone picks up. He speaks with a noticeable but not thick French accent, reading from a script:
"Hello, Maria? My name is Alex, I'm a volunteer calling about the important city council election on March 8th. Have you already voted?"
A pause, and some back-and-forth about mail-in-ballots.
"I would like to know who you are going to vote for for city council. Oh. Well, I'm supporting Rich Goodman. He's a good man for city council. He just received the L.A. Times endorsement two days ago. He's a Democrat with strong ethics and moral integrity, believes that our taxes should go to our neighborhoods and to improve our streets and sidewalks."
This scene, in this little apartment, this is how you run for Los Angeles City Council on less than $4,000. You get friends (including your dad) and perhaps a few random strangers to volunteer, making phone calls and knocking on doors.