La Jolla millionaire R.B. “Buzz” Woolley, the charter-school advocate and founder of the Voice of San Diego online news site, didn’t exactly have a great political year. The labor-union foe and hotel investor was one of the first financial backers of Proposition 32, the ultimately defeated measure to ban withholding of union political dues, giving $10,000 in March. Then Woolley gave $950 to the bid of Republican Ray Ellis to defeat Democratic city councilwoman Sherri Lightner; she won easily. The philanthropist also kicked in $15,000 for a political action committee backing Bill Ponder for San Diego school board. Ponder lost to teachers’ union candidate Marne Foster. And Woolley spent $10,000 in a futile attempt to defeat Proposition Z, the measure to raise property taxes and float a $2.8 billion San Diego school-bond issue.
But if Woolley didn’t exactly run the table in his political endeavors this year, he can still fall back on his nonprofit Girard Foundation to curry a fair amount of influence, though it, too, has suffered a few stumbles. According to its most recent federal disclosure, covering last calendar year, the foundation had total assets of $14,535,971 and made grants and contributions of $896,088. No contributions were received, but $553,429 came in from dividends and interest.
Overhead amounted to a relatively high $199,929, with longtime program director Susan Wolking getting $103,000 in salary and benefits. Woolley’s pals and board members Deirdre Alpert, an ex-Democratic state senator and friend of the downtown establishment, and Mary Walshok, the associate vice chancellor for public programs and dean of extension at UCSD prone to local social commentary, each picked up a quick $5000, as did La Jollan Robert A. Schroeder, who was listed as the foundation’s assistant treasurer. Each of the trio spent an average of 15 minutes a week on the charity’s business, according to the disclosure.
The foundation’s largest grant, $414,500, was made to Girard Charter Schools, a Woolley-backed venture that failed to get a proposed La Jolla charter middle school off the ground and surrendered its charter last year, according to a report in the La Jolla Light. Other contributions included $22,400 to the Voice of San Diego; $27,000 to Gompers Academy, another charter school operation; $25,500 to Junior Achievement; and $15,000 to Reality Changers, which provides academic coaching to inner-city high school students. Program director Wolking didn’t respond to a request for comment.