EdVoice, a controversial Sacramento lobbying and political action group closely aligned with Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and other wealthy advocates of public school privatization and charter schools, has placed a high-stakes bet on the candidacy of Marty Block, a Democrat running for the 78th Assembly District seat of termed-out Republican Shirley Horton. Block, a former professor at San Diego State University, is currently president of the San Diego Community College District board of trustees.
According to a campaign finance statement filed March 5, a new group calling itself “Public School Champions for Marty Block, A Project of EdVoice, Inc.” received $100,000 from the “EdVoice Independent Expenditure Committee” on February 14. State records show that last year the EdVoice independent expenditure committee raised a total of $965,421 from a roster of well-heeled donors, including $94,400 each from Broad; Gap chairman Donald Fisher; Carrie Walton Penner, a granddaughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton; and R.B. “Buzz” Woolley Jr., the La Jolla investor best known locally as president and chief executive officer of the Voice of San Diego online news website and ex-husband of former UCSD general counsel Ann Parode, now married to departing UC president Robert Dynes. The most recently reported individual contribution to EdVoice’s expenditure committee was $294,400 in November from John Doerr, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful venture capitalists and a key backer of privatizing public schools.
In addition to its pro–charter school efforts, EdVoice has lobbied heavily against state legislation intended to return control of the Oakland Unified School District to its elected school board. The bill was subsequently vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a major recipient of Broad’s campaign money. The state took over the district in 2003 because it was virtually bankrupt. Since then it has been run by graduates of the Broad Superintendents Academy, established by the billionaire to recruit and train those with business and military backgrounds in how to operate schools in free market ways that Broad and his backers argue are more effective than those employed by the public school establishment. (In San Diego, Broad is best known for contributing to school board candidates who backed the reign of ex–San Diego Unified chief Alan Bersin; the billionaire is also noted for his wily ways. In 2000, Broad’s nonprofit foundation donated a total of $170,000 to two small East Coast foundations, which in turn made contributions to a so-called 527 political committee in San Diego that unsuccessfully opposed then-incumbent Fran Zimmerman, thereby keeping Broad’s name out of it.)
Critics, many of them teachers fearful of losing their jobs, say the biggest knock on Broad is that he and his friends use EdVoice as a stealthy vehicle to advance what they maintain is a dubious privatization agenda. In particular, they cite EdVoice’s creation of a campaign committee called “Carbon Free Voting 2008, A Project of EdVoice, Inc.” In November of last year, EdVoice’s independent expenditure committee transferred $65,000 to the carbon-free voting committee.
That money was used to send 50,000 L.A. County homes a mailer telling residents they should vote by mail in the February 2008 presidential primary so as to eliminate the “carbon footprint” they would create if they drove to the polls. Those who chose to use their car, the mailer said, would be “polluting the air and contributing to global warming.” The mail piece, which said it was printed with soy ink on paper from “well managed forests,” had a picture of the Earth under the banner “Protect our Planet.”
But the piece also featured another photo, that of ex-assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Democrat who just happens to be running a state senate primary campaign against Assemblyman Lloyd Levine in liberal west L.A. The election isn’t until June, but Pavley’s opponents cried foul. “It looks dubious,” Tracy Westen, head of a political reform group, told the L.A. Times. “It’s coordinated with her, it has her picture on it and it is going into that senate district.”