Race for California state schools chief begins to attract major contributions

By: Louis Freedberg, EdSource

The race for state superintendent for public instruction between the two major candidates, Marshall Tuck and Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, has begun to attract some of the massive contributions from wealthy individuals that characterized the last contest, when Tuck ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Tom Torlakson four years ago.

That race generated huge contributions, mainly through independent expenditure committees, with pro-charter school forces pouring in millions to support Tuck with counter contributions from teachers and other labor unions on behalf of Torlakson.

In fact, the Torlakson-Tuck race in 2014 generated a record shattering $25 million in spending — most of that coming after the June primary election and more than the total spent for the gubernatorial race that year.

In the last few days, the spending race appears to be getting underway again.

As of last week, a political action committee formed by EdVoice, a Sacramento-based political advocacy organization, contributed$2,454,000 to a pro-Tuck independent expenditure committee it established. The committee is titled “Students, Parents and Teachers Supporting Marshall Tuck.” A single contribution of $2 million on April 23 made up the largest share.

Then on Monday, the California Teachers Association independent expenditure committee contributed $1 million to an independent expenditure committee named “Educators Supporting Tony Thurmond.” The CTA endorsed Thurmond last fall.

An an independent expenditure committee is allowed to promote a candidate but is barred from directly coordinating its activities with the candidate or his or her campaign. There are no limits on how much an organization or individual can contribute to one of these committees, often referred to as an IEC.

In the maze of campaign PACS and IECs, it can be difficult to directly track the flow of a contribution by an individual to a committee working on behalf of a candidate.

Major donors to the EdVoice PAC that funneled the money to the pro-Tuck IEC included many of the same big monied charter donors who contributed to Tuck’s campaign in 2014. The biggest contributor to the EdVoice PAC was venture capitalist Arthur Rock, who contributed $2 million.

Other donors included Jim Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, with a $500,000 contribution, his sister Alice Walton, who contributed $600,000, and his daughter Carrie Walton Penner who contributed $100,000. Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad also donated $300,000 to the EdVoice PAC that then contributed to the pro-Tuck IEC it established.

In direct contributions since the start of their campaigns, Tuck has raised nearly $2.5 million, compared to Thurmond’s nearly $1.7 million.

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