State superintendent of public instruction candidate Marshall Tuck’s campaign said Wednesday it has returned a $5,000 contribution from a major backer of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriages in California.
The announcement came one day after Equality California, a statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization, called on Tuck to return the contribution from Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr., and donate the $57,800 contribution from Ahmanson to Tuck’s 2014 campaign to organizations that support LGBTQ youth.
“We are concerned that someone seeking to lead the California Department of Education has accepted support from a man who is a well-known donor to right-wing and anti-LGBTQ causes and best known for bankrolling the infamous anti-LGBTQ Proposition 8,” Equality California said in a press release.
But Tuck’s campaign manager, Andrew Blumenfeld, said that Tuck already had decided to give back the contribution to the current campaign after learning last week of Ahmanson’s ties to Prop. 8 and before Equality California issued its demand. Blumenfeld said that the 2014 contribution from Ahmanson exceeded limits that individuals can donate to a statewide race and must have been to a group making an independent expenditure to Tuck’s campaign.
“Supporting and advancing the civil rights of LGBTQ people is very important to Marshall. As State Superintendent, he will champion the rights of LGBTQ students,” Tuck said in the Wednesday press release. Blumenfeld pointed to the section of Tuck’s plan for action that calls for supporting LGBT students and expanding civil rights protections of vulnerable children, regardless of sexual orientation.
On Thursday, the Thurmond campaign issued a press release disputing the Tuck campaign’s assertion that Tuck returned the money as soon as he was made aware of the contribution. The Thurmond campaign noted that on Jan. 16, it publicly criticized Tuck for accepting a $5,000 contribution from Fieldstead & Company, “a major donor to the Yes on Proposition 8 campaign.” On Jan. 18, Tuck amended his campaign finance report to show that he had converted the $5,000 from Fieldstead & Company to Ahmanson, the CEO and founder of the company. Only on Jan. 24, six days later, did the campaign announce Tuck had sent back the donation.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous” for the Tuck campaign to claim it didn’t know that Ahmanson, one of Tuck’s big donors, was also a huge contributor to the anti-Prop. 8 campaign, said Madeline Franklin, campaign manager for Tony Thurmond for State Superintendent.
Tuck, who lost in a close election in 2014 against incumbent State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, is expected to face stiff competition again, this time from Assemblymember Tony Thurmond of Richmond. Although the office is nonpartisan, both Tuck and Thurmond are Democrats. Thurmond has the support of the California Teachers Association. Tuck, a former charter school executive and CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit operating 16 Los Angeles Unified schools, has received substantial funding from charter school funders.
Voters passed Prop. 8 by a 52-48 percent margin in 2008, but the prohibition on same-sex marriages was overturned by California courts and, in 2013, by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In its press release, Equality California cited $1.4 million that Ahmanson’s company, Fieldstead & Company, donated in support of Prop. 8 and other contributions opposing gay and reproductive rights.