Following Monica's Money

Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres”

Tell me with whom you walk, and I’ll tell you who you are.

- Mexican Proverb as quoted by Antonio Villaraigosa

As headlined in the L.A. School Report, “L.A. Unified school board member Monica Garcia dominates fundraising in re-election bid”. She has raised “nearly 150 times more money than her opponent”, giving her plenty of room to maneuver and make sure that her donations are as clean as possible. However, a review of her $119,858.40 haul suggests that not much of a review was performed. After all, the bar must have been pretty low to accept these donations:

Michael Keeley, $1,100

As the top mayoral aide to Richard Riordan, Keeley did not even try to hide his wrongdoing when he faxed “a confidential city attorney’s office memo to private attorneys on the opposing side of a contract dispute” and included “a cover note admitting he had been told not to disclose it and asking the attorneys not to reveal what he had done.” The City Attorney at the time warned that “the breach could cost taxpayers millions” and called on the Mayor to dismiss the aide. Instead, Riordan “asked Keeley to stay on”, even after the City Council voted that “it had no confidence in Keeley.” Keeley did eventually resign.

As a side note, Richard Riordan also contributed $1,100 to the Garcia campaign.

Vielka McFarlane, $1,100.00

The CEO of the Celerity Educational Group, whose 2012 total compensation package topped $ 438,730.00, does not appear to be a fan of ethnic studies:

"Our whole goal is how do we get these kids to not look at all of the bad things that could happen to them and instead focus on the process of how do we become the next surgeon or the next politician. We don't want to focus on how the history of the country has been checkered but on how do we dress for success, walk proud and celebrate all the accomplishments we've made."

In an example of this mission put into action, a poem about Emmett Till was banned from a Black History Month presentation saying that the case where two men beat the 14-year-old “nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and then threw his body, tied to the cotton-gin fan with barbed wire, into the river” “was not fitting for a program intended to be celebratory”. Teachers and students also reported that the school’s principal had reduced the “early impetus of the African American civil rights movement” to a case of sexual harassment. Two teachers who protested the decision were fired by the administration.

In Pasadena, the charter chain had one of its sites closed down by the Pasadena Fire Marshal after he found it to be “dangerous and unsafe.” The 300 students were being taught at a facility that had “no automatic sprinkler or fire alarm systems, inadequate egress, and kindergarten through second-grade classrooms were located in the basement, which is illegal.” Even as McFarlane surrendered the charter, she maintained “that the site was safe and appropriate for use by our students”.

Grace Canada ($1,100), Diana Macias ($250), Juan Montalvo Saucedo ($1,100) and Kendal Turner ($250) are other Garcia donors who listed their employer as Celerity Education Group.

Lee Andrews Group, $1,100

If you have ever wondered why your DWP bill is so high, this “sorry tale of corporate greed” can provide you with some answers. After “giving more than $41,000 to several city candidates” the “Lee Andrews Group was paid $4.8 million...to provide the DWP with advertising, communication, community outreach and media relations services.” Unfortunately, audits found “that the company couldn't substantiate charges and overbilled the agency for consulting services”. They paid $1 million to settle these claims.

MLJ Property Management, $1,000

Pacific Services Inc., $1,000

Want to get around those pesky ethics rules that limit the amount you can donate to a campaign? Just spread your donation between different companies. For example, these are listed as two different donors even though MLJ “is located at the same address as Pacifica in Pasadena.” The Pacifica Services website states that it was “founded by Ernest Camacho” and MLJ is “the first initials of Ernie Camacho’s three children”.

The two also share a history in the Central Basin Municipal Water District (CBMWD) where Pacifica Services had a contract worth “more than $5 million” that “was extended seven times by CBMWD executives who sidestepped any formal approval by” the elected Board of Directors. The last amendment left it up to the company to “determine the ‘method,details, and means’ of performing the services”. “A former general manager of the CBMWD paid a $30,000 fine for accepting gifts from” Ernest Camacho. Another former general manager sued the district because he claimed that he was fired “for investigating the billing practices of Pasadena engineering company Pacifica Services...and its relationships with the agency’s directors.” A 2013 report stated that “Pacific has handed out campaign donations totaling nearly $40,000 to every existing member of the board and some past ones too.

Richard Alatorre, $500

Alatorre [eventually] said it was an oversight”, but when the city clerk’s auditors tried to investigate if his “state committee apparently was used to further the City Council campaign in violation of the law”, he “refused to turn over records for his state committee” and forced them to obtain search warrants. This refusal to cooperate may have prevented the City Attorney from criminally charging Alatorre, but did file a civil lawsuit. To settle, “he agreed to pay a fine of $5,000, and his campaign committees agreed to pay another fine of $40,000. About $83,000 more [was] returned to his Assembly campaign fund, and he [returned] about $32,000 to contributors.” None of these fines changed the fact that the funding scheme may have affected the results of the election.

In another case, The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU paid Alatorre a $1,000 speaking fee. He later admitted that after receiving this fee “he tried to steer a $722,500 contract to” them. For this “Alatorre paid a $2,000 fine for violating state conflict-of-interest laws.

Eugene D. Straub

On December 1, 2015, Straub authorized a $600,000 withdrawal from the bank account of the Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) Associated Student Body without obtaining their permission or informing the Governing Board. While the transaction was labeled “adjust GHC funds per Eugene St”, the funds were actually transferred “in order to assure that the payroll file would not be rejected.” GHCHS or the LAUSD Charter School Division has yet to explain if this misclassification was a deliberate attempt to conceal the nature of the transfer.

Lynda Resnick, $1,100

Stewart and Lynda Resnick own the Wonderful Company whose brands include Halos (formerly called Cuties), “Fiji Water, POM Wonderful, and the world's largest pistachio and almond growing operation”. The Federal Trade Commission cited the company for “making misleading and inadequately supported claims about the health benefits of POM products” by advertising that their products “could treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.” In drought-stricken California, the company has resorted to using the waste product from fracking operations to satisfy the needs of some of their water intensive crops. Earlier this year it was revealed that the company clear cut “an oak forest on land managed by” one of its subsidiaries without notifying local authorities.

Gustavo Valdivisa, $1,100

If you want proof that accepting these contributions was not just a simple oversight by the García campaign, consider the fact the incumbent was also called out for accepting a donation from Valdivisa during her 2013 campaign. In that election, this donor identified himself as the owner of Grande Vista Associates. This firm was implicated in a bid-rigging scheme where an interior designer lost a bid even though “she said she never bid.” It was also suggested that Valdivia won contracts with the housing authority while being paid by another company for consulting on how to win these same contracts. It was also alleged that Valdivia asked Sam In “to be an officer” of Grande Vista Associates after he “retired” from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. In 2013, Mr. In “plead guilty to felony bribery” for “accepting more than $30,000 in bribes involving several properties in or around Koreatown.”

 

While much of the LAUSD election process is left to outside forces like the Los Angeles City Council, there are some things that the District can do to make improvements. Some of my suggestions can be found in my proposed resolution LAUSD Election Reform, the fourth in a series designed to show what changes that I would make to the District.


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