Tax returns showed the foundation had collected about $4 million from a variety of donors. Like Essential Information, Inc., Public Interest Projects had no history of contributing to education issues. Its largest donation was $1.5 million to an environmental study in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Another $1.3 million went to an "immigration advocacy" project. Under the law, neither foundation was required to disclose the names of those who contributed the funds.
Thus, because neither Mokhiber nor Ross responded to multiple requests to identify the source of the funds used to pay for their respective foundations' contributions to the anti-Zimmerman commercials, the ultimate source of the money remained unknown. After Zimmerman's narrow November victory over Dubick, the controversy soon faded away, the funding questions unanswered.
Today, exactly two years later, in the midst of another closely fought school-board race, many of the same questions are being raised once more. This time attention has focused on public relations man Alan Ziegaus and his company, Southwest Strategies.
In August, sources inside the district revealed that he and his associate, Bernie Rhinerson, a longtime veteran of local political campaigns, had begun to meet frequently with Bersin and Bersin's in-house public relations staff.
The purpose, according to the sources, was to plot campaign public relations strategy with an eye to the election of two Bersin supporters running for the school board: ex-FBI man Clyde Fuller and Katherine Nakamura, a lawyer employed by the University of San Diego. Although neither Ziegaus nor Bersin has responded to questions regarding the arrangement, district sources say Bersin told associates that the services of Southwest Strategies are being paid for by private donations. But he would not reveal the source of the money.
As the summer drew to a close, however, speculation began to focus on one man, Eli Broad, a powerful Los Angeles Democrat who had amassed a $5 billion fortune, first as a home builder and later in the financial and insurance industry. Three years ago Broad, who had given millions to various modern-art museums, announced that he was shifting focus and establishing the Broad Foundation to improve public education in America; earlier this year, flanked by U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and various congressional Democrats, he said that he and his family would quadruple the L.A.-based foundation's assets to $400 million.
Born in 1933, a child of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, Broad graduated from Detroit's Central High School and Michigan State University in 1954. He reportedly stepped down from day-to-day leadership of his home-building business, now known as KB Homes, and financial services company, SunAmerica, Inc., to take personal charge of his charitable efforts on behalf of education. "We are going to seek out, identify, and fund action-oriented and promising initiatives," he told a Los Angeles townhall forum in April 2001.
A lifelong Democrat, Broad doesn't hesitate to use his wealth to gain political position. He contributed $150,000 to this year's reelection campaign for Democratic governor Gray Davis, and Davis subsequently appointed him to the governor's Commission on Building for the 21st Century. The commission, made up mostly of wealthy Davis contributors, has recommended a series of infrastructure tax hikes, bond issues, and other pro-business deregulatory measures intended to boost real estate and industrial development in the state.
On the education front, Broad and the foundation he controls have embraced a variety of experimental programs, including charter schools, and he has taken the lead in advocating the appointment of so-called "nontraditional" school superintendents, contending that hidebound administrators are resisting change and reform.
According to the Broad Foundation website, the organization's mission is to "redefine the traditional roles, practices, and policies of school board members, superintendents, principals, and labor union leaders to better address contemporary challenges in education."
Broad told the New York Times in July that the old-fashioned education model for superintendents was passé. "The skills necessary to run a huge urban school district have changed dramatically in recent years," he said. "They have to know or be trained in management, problem solving, finance, labor relations, systems operations, and so on."
Critics argue that Broad's charitable operation, like Davis's 21st Century committee, is really just the camel's nose under the tent for a number of various business interests, which seek to obtain lucrative contracts for educational "outsourcing" -- school-bond financing, office supplies, and construction. Teachers' union organizers also fear that the newly aggressive management will eventually toss them onto the street. But in the midst of the country's current desperation over the quality of public education, Broad's message has met very little skepticism or public questioning. He is frequently hailed by newspaper editorial writers.
At the top of Broad's list of "nontraditional" administrators, according to a page on the website of his foundation, is none other than San Diego's Alan Bersin, a lawyer who served as the San Diego region's United States Attorney during the Clinton administration and who is the son-in-law of the late Stanley Foster, a wealthy local financier and landowner with longtime ties to the state Democratic Party.
Headlined "Our Heroes," the page proclaims that Bersin and his deputy, ex-New York public schools administrator Anthony Alvarado, are "making difficult but needed changes, including replacing several principals due to lackluster performance. They relish challenging the status quo and are prepared to be judged by the results. The Broad Foundation is a long-term investor in developing a leadership academy for aspiring principals. We're betting on San Diego's leadership team to transform San Diego's schools.
"Alan's partner, Chancellor of Instruction Tony Alvarado, has a long record of success in raising student achievement levels and attracting high-quality professional educators during his ten years as superintendent of Manhattan Community School District 2 in New York City."
Since 2000, Broad's foundation has given $4.7 million to the University of San Diego to operate on behalf of the San Diego Unified School District a "principals' school," known as the Educational Leadership Development Academy. It is run by Elaine Fink, who was Alvarado's professional associate in New York. Records show she now shares a Coronado Shores condominium with him. A big supporter of the Fink operation -- a favorite Bersin project -- is school-board candidate Katherine Nakamura, who is USD's assistant secretary of the corporation's board of trustees, reporting to the president of the university.