Charter school supporters and the state’s largest teachers’ union are making their influence felt both in statewide and local races in California’s midterm elections.
The Sacramento nonprofit advocacy group EdVoice, which has received millions of dollars from wealthy advocates of charter school expansion, and the California Teachers Association have helped drive total fundraising in the race for state Superintendent of Public Instruction to over $50 million.
While that record-breaking spending has attracted considerable attention, the same groups have also spent money on dozens of races for the state Legislature throughout California, such as a hotly contested Assembly campaign in the Bay Area and a Senate race in the San Gabriel Valley. Some local school board candidates are also getting support from these sources.
EdVoice and the CTA are among numerous organizations backing local legislative races.
The future growth of charter schools in California has been one of the most contentious issues in that race as well as the broader debate over whether there should be a moratorium on new charter schools or more transparency around their operation of charter schools. But in local contests it is often difficult to discern why an organization supports a particular candidate, or where the candidates stands on a range of education issues.
The EdVoice For The Kids Political Action Committee spent $1.27 million backing candidates for the Legislature as of Oct. 20, the most recent campaign finance filing deadline, an EdSource analysis found. That amount pales in comparison to the $25.8 million the group had spent as of that date to support independent expenditure committees backing former school executive Marshall Tuck’s bid for superintendent.
Still, EdVoice contributions have gone to candidates in 15 of this year’s 20 state Senate elections and 36 of the 80 contests in the Assembly.
The California Teachers Association Independent Expenditure Committee has donated to candidates in 13 Senate races and 59 contests in the Assembly. That committee, which is one of several run by the teachers’ union, spent $928,225 on campaigns for the Legislature as of Oct. 20, campaign finance record show. It has given $8.5 million to an independent expenditure committee supporting Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, in the superintendent campaign.
The CTA has given almost exclusively to Democrats — only one of the 72 candidates it contributed to, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo, is a Republican. EdVoice’s donations were more mixed, going to 35 Democrats and 17 Republicans.
The groups’ contributions have gone directly to candidates as well as to independent expenditure committees that support them.
Independent expenditure committees are allowed to receive donations of unlimited size, but are barred from coordinating with candidates.
Direct contributions from individuals and political action committees to campaigns for the Assembly and Senate are limited to $4,400 per election, meaning someone could give up to that amount twice, for the primary and general election. Small contributor committees, groups that pool donations of up to $200 from large numbers of donors, can give up to $8,800 per election.
Other organizations in the charter debate are also spending on legislative races, such as California Charter Schools Association Advocates, an independent expenditure committee affiliated with the state’s charter school association, as well as other unions representing teachers, school staff and university faculty.
Still, EdVoice and the CTA are taking on substantial roles in some races for Legislature. Here’s a closer look at two of them:
EdVoice gives big in tough Bay Area Assembly race
The race between two Democrats to represent the 15th Assembly district — an East Bay seat encompassing Berkeley, Richmond and parts of Oakland — has become one of the fiercest Legislature campaigns on the November ballot.
Thurmond has held the seat since 2014, but is giving it up to run for state superintendent.
EdVoice has not contributed directly to Wicks, but has given $556,500 to an independent expenditure committee supporting her. That total represents just over half of the money raised by the committee.
Campaign finance records show the committee supporting Wicks has mainly spent its money on mailers, most of which was listed as opposing Beckles. It has also paid for online advertising.
EdVoice has invested far more in this race than the CTA.
There is not an independent expenditure committee supporting Beckles, but she has received tens of thousands of dollars from labor groups in direct contributions to her campaign, including the CTA. Three CTA-affiliated committees have given a combined $26,400 to Beckles. She has also received donations from the California Federation of Teachers and the California Faculty Association.
By backing the pro-Wicks committee, EdVoice is supporting a candidate who has struck a more moderate tone on charter schools than her opponent. Both Beckles and Wicks have called for increased education funding, but Beckles has sharply criticized charter schools. Beckles has called for a moratorium on new charter schools and the education portion of her website alleges that charter schools “too often worsen inequality and dodge public accountability.”
Wicks’ website states, “Charter public schools can serve a need in our community, but we need more transparency and accountability in how they are run.” It does not call for a moratorium on new charter schools.
Southern California Senate race sees big spending from CTA
The CTA has spent more substantial sums on another two-Democrat race, this one farther south in the San Gabriel Valley’s 22nd Senate district. Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, who has represented the area east of Los Angeles since 2010, cannot run for reelection because of term limits, and is now running for lieutenant governor.
The teachers’ union has given $230,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting Assemblyman Mike Eng’s campaign for the Senate seat, making it by far the largest donor to that committee. CTA has also given the most it can directly to Eng’s campaign, $17,600.
Interestingly, the union’s money is supporting a candidate whose opponent is a teacher. She is Susan Rubio, a 3rd-grade teacher and city councilwoman in Baldwin Park.
EdVoice has made almost no financial contributions in this race, having given just $1,300 to Rubio. One of the EdVoice committee’s largest contributors, real estate developer Bill Bloomfield, has given the personal maximum of $8,800 to the Rubio campaign, as has Bloomfield’s wife, Susan.
It is not immediately clear why CTA has contributed so much to getting Eng elected. Neither Eng’s nor Rubio’s website makes any mention of charter schools, however Rubio has been endorsed by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates.
Correction: This article was updated on Nov. 5, 2018, to clarify that the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, not the California Charter Schools Association, contributed money and made endorsements in several legislative races.