Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics

Behind the School Board Races: Reformers With Deep Pockets

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad gave $150,000 to the newly launched Coalition for School Reform. (Creative Commons licensed by flickr user <a href='http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelevanetarchives/4559018735/'>Michael Evanet Archives</a>)As we reported last week, independent expenditures in the four Board of Education races are approaching $1 million. The races are largely a pitched battle between the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles and a group called the Coalition for School Reform.

In three out of four races, the Coalition has heavily outspent the UTLA (see chart after the jump). As of the last filing deadline in January, they'd raised more than $1 million and still had more than $800,000 left. With the UTLA withdrawing support from two of their candidates earlier in the month the Coalition appears to be cruising towards an unexpectedly easy victory.

But where did all that money come from?

Rich people, mostly.

Click to enlarge. (Source: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission)
Jerry Perenchio, the former CEO of Univision and the second-highest giver of the last election cycle, is in for $250,000. Eli Broad, the billionaire art king of downtown L.A., gave $150,000. Stephen Bing, the film producer and real estate developer, gave $100,000.

These are people across all ideological spectrums. Perenchio gives mostly to Republicans, such as John McCain; Bing gives to Democrats like Terry McAuliffe and Gavin Newsom; the Broad Foundation has given money to Democrats as well as fuzzy centrists like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is largely seen as the figurehead behind the Coalition for School Reform. Though he hasn't yet made any endorsements, he has helped raise money, mostly by making phone calls.

The list of contributors includes a number of developers, including four companies with the same address in Chicago who all gave $25,000. Steve Barkan, a campaign consultant for SG&A Campaigns who's working for the coalition, confirmed that the four groups are part of JMB Realty, which is one of the largest developers in the country and built the Century City Shopping Center.

"I don't know why they split [their donations] up — that's their business — but they are connected to each other," says Barkan. "They have property in Los Angeles and have a long record of contributing to school reform efforts, because they want the economy strong."

Contributors to the Coalition (Source: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission)Another big giver is the Anschutz Corporation (in for $100,000), which owns AEG, which in turn owns the Kodak Theater, The Staple Center, The Home Depot Center, and hopes to build a football stadium smack dab in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

"People give money for reasons that blend public and private motivations," says Ron Kaye, the blogger and former editor of the Daily News who has been critical of the mayor, Eli Broad, and just about everyone in a position of power in Los Angeles. "People want to do good. But hanging over that is the opportunity to have access and to be part of the machinery of who matters."

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