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California's top political watchdog agency looking into Inglewood school spending

A student boards a bus maintained by the Inglewood Unified School District on February 28, 2012.
A student boards a bus maintained by the Inglewood Unified School District on February 28, 2012. Grant Slater/KPCC

California's Fair Political Practices Commission said Wednesday a KPCC investigation of misuse of public funds and possible violations of election reporting laws by Inglewood school officials has raised red flags.

“We did read the story and we will be looking into it,” said Jay Wierenga, the spokesman for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

Wierenga said he could not comment further on this specific case and wouldn’t say what facts in the news report commission officials would be reviewing. He said they'll decide shortly whether to open a formal investigation into wrongdoing.

“We take any violation of the Political Reform Act very seriously and so we will look into things when we are made aware of them,” he said.

Through court records and interviews, KPCC found that at least $4,700 of public funds intended to educate children in Inglewood public schools were instead used to pay for a political flier that discredited a school board candidate challenging an incumbent board member in 2009.

L.A. County elections officials said there is no record of that amount filed as a contribution or an expenditure of any kind during that election. According to a political ethics expert, if top officials at the school district knew public funds would be used in a political campaign, that would be a misuse of public funds. He said at the very least, the expenditure appears to violate mandatory election spending reporting requirements.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is tasked with enforcing California’s 1974 Political Reform Act. A key part of those laws involves mandatory filing of financial or in-kind donations made to political campaigns and the filing of independent expenditures made for a candidate or a ballot measure.

The commission has the power to investigate and fine local and statewide public officials found to violate the law.

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