Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Behind the School Board Election, a Football Stadium?

Los Angeles School Board District 5 Candidate Luis Sanchez has received $633,713.01 in independent expenditure support. (Graph: Catherine Cloutier)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.

Prior to taking the position of Chief of Staff for current School Board President Monica Garcia, Sanchez worked as the Executive Director for InnerCity Struggle, an educational justice organization based in East Los Angeles. (Now his wife, Maria Brenes, holds that role).

InnerCity Struggle favors charter and alternative school operators. It was instrumental in bringing five pilot schools, which enjoy charter-like freedoms, to East Los Angeles.

In December 2007, InnerCity Struggle worked alongside Villaraigosa in lobbying for the takeover of Roosevelt High School by the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. InnerCity Struggle's website claims it elicited 1,200 votes in the election to determine the placement. The three-month campaign for the Partnership — which Inner City Struggle called "Say YES to Change" — was successful.

So in the spirit of "quid pro quo," the mayor-backed Coalition for School Reform looked favorably on Sanchez, as did its many benefactors. The Los Angeles Times reported Villaraigosa himself called the billionaire for the independent expenditure. And not surprisingly, AEG has the mayor's backing in its plans for the football stadium.

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