Philanthropist Eli Broad inserted himself into a pivotal Los Angeles school board race at the last second this week, making the largest individual donation to any candidate.
Broad’s $100,000 didn’t go directly to a candidate for the open District 5 seat, but to a union running its own campaign on behalf of Heather Repenning. Such independent campaigns have no donation limits.
The election day contribution went to a political action committee run by Local 99 of Service Employees International, which represents school district employees. Broad has frequently opposed unions politically.
Local 99’s ideological alliances have sometimes shifted. It has typically supported board members running for reelection regardless of who else supports them.
Repenning’s campaign is currently on hold as more than 4,700 ballots still are being counted. She is just behind Graciela Ortiz, in a virtual tie, for the second spot in a May 14 runoff for the office; after the initial vote count on Tuesday, only 53 votes separated them. Only one of them will make it to the ballot to face Jackie Goldberg, who far outpaced all other candidates.
In Tuesday’s vote, Repenning and Ortiz finished about 35 percentage points behind Goldberg, who nearly won a majority of votes, which would have eliminated the need for a runoff.
Repenning was the best-funded candidate because of Local 99, which represents cafeteria workers, bus drivers, building and grounds workers, teaching assistants and unarmed campus security aides.
The former public works commissioner is a highly qualified candidate that the union, Broad and others can agree on, said Max Arias, the union’s executive director.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti also endorsed Repenning.
In all, Local 99 spent about $1 million on behalf of Repenning, the largest amount for any candidate. United Teachers Los Angeles was the next largest contributor, spending more than $660,000 on behalf of Goldberg.
Repenning has tried to position herself as a centrist, close neither to charter backers nor union interests.
Charter schools are privately operated and compete with district-run schools for students. Most are nonunion. Local 99 represents workers at only two of the more than 200 charters in the district, according to the union. But children of union members attend both charter and traditional schools.
In past elections, Broad has been a major donor to candidates endorsed by charter school advocates — who typically are opposed by candidates backed by the teachers union. Charter supporters did not coalesce around a single candidate in this election cycle.
Another major pro-charter donor, Manhattan Beach businessman Bill Bloomfield, gave $5,000 to a Local 99 PAC. He also gave $1,200 directly to the campaign of Allison Bajracharya, a charter school executive also on the ballot. Bajracharya, who finished fifth, attracted direct donations from many charter supporters. A group associated with charter backers, Students for Education Reform Action Network, spent nearly $139,000 on her behalf.
Because Broad is a high-profile figure and a major donor, his contributions tend to get noticed. And it’s not the first time that his donation has arrived too late to be part of the news cycle before voting takes place.
Both Broad and Bloomfield have made much larger donations in the past. In the final stretch of the 2017 L.A. Board of Education campaigns, Broad gave nearly $1.9 million to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a political action committee that was spending heavily in the race. Bloomfield contributed $2.275 million, the vast majority of it late in that campaign.
During that period, CCSA Advocates gave $25,000 to Local 99 to help it support incumbent board member Monica Garcia.
The president of the teachers union, Alex Caputo-Pearl, criticized Local 99’s interactions with Broad.
“We are very concerned about any union accepting a donation from a known billionaire privatizer and union-buster,” he said.