Education

Outside money pouring into LA school board race at potentially record-setting clip

Los Angeles Unified School Board members hear public comment during a recent meeting. The public television station it operates, KLCS, broadcasts all board meetings.
Los Angeles Unified School Board members hear public comment during a recent meeting. The public television station it operates, KLCS, broadcasts all board meetings.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

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Could 2017 be the most expensive campaign yet for the Los Angeles Unified School Board? It's possible if the early pace of outside spending in the race keeps up.

With less than one month to go before the March primary, outside groups have already spent $2.9 million on television, political mailers, canvassing and phone-banking in hopes of swaying the outcome in the race for three L.A. school board seats.

At this point in 2013 — in a race that ended up being the most expensive L.A. school board campaign in at least the last 15 years — only $1.6 million in "independent expenditures" had been reported.

This chart compares the running totals of all
This chart compares the running totals of all "independent expenditures" in L.A. Unified School Board races in 2013 (orange) and 2017 (blue). These expenditures from outside political groups — they cannot legally be made in consultation with any candidates' campaign — can pay for everything from phone-bankers to television ads.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

By law, independent expenditures cannot be made in coordination with any one candidate's campaign. Still, this money has come to define L.A. school board races, outstripping contributions to individual candidates' campaigns most years.

The main difference between 2013 and this year: a marked increase in early independent expenditures to oppose candidates.

By this stage in 2013, groups affiliated with the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union had spent more than $160,000 to oppose two candidates with pro-charter school leanings — and pro-charter groups had spent nothing to oppose any candidate.

This year, that storyline has inverted. Outside groups have already spent more than $1.2 million to oppose candidates; most of which — a little more than $1 million — has come from pro-charter school groups to oppose incumbent board president Steve Zimmer, including $682,000 in television ads.