The foundation's website said that Mokhiber -- who grew up in Niagara Falls, New York, the child of working-class parents, and later worked for Ralph Nader -- was "one of the nation's leading authorities on corporate crime, is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal weekly, and the author of Corporate Crime and Violence: Big Business Power and the Abuse of the Public Trust."
"Corporations are the only criminal class that has so marinated the law-making process with their money that they both define the law and influence enforcement of the law," Mokhiber told Florida's St. Petersburg Times in 1997. In 1999 he told the New York Times, "Corporate crime is crime without shame. It's gotten to the point where when a corporation pleads guilty to some criminal act, the stock goes up." Based on his biography, Mokhiber seemed an unlikely partner for capitalists Moores and Burnham.
The second foundation, Public Interest Projects, was more elusive. Its president, Donald Ross, is a Democratic lobbyist and longtime liberal activist in New York and Washington who founded the Ralph Nader-sponsored New York Public Interest Research Group in 1973. He and his partner, attorney Arthur Malkin, lobbied for the New York state trial attorneys' organization, which often pitted them against the state's business community.
Like Essential Information, Inc., Public Interest Projects had no history of contributing to education issues. No one from either foundation would respond to queries from a reporter as to why they gave sizable donations to a campaign against a San Diego school-board member.
More than two years later, after the foundations filed 2000 tax returns, it became clear that Eli Broad had used his own nonprofit, tax-exempt foundation to funnel his contributions to the two eastern charities that had given the money to the anti-Zimmerman advertising campaign.
A May 2001 tax return showed that in 2000, the Broad Foundation contributed $110,000 to Essential Information, according to a letter signed by Broad himself. "I am pleased to inform you that the Broad Foundation has approved your recent grant request to support Essential Information's efforts to encourage citizens to become active in public education issues in their communities.
"We are impressed with your prior work in disseminating education and other urban economic development information through conferences, journal articles, books, and reports. We are pleased to be able to support you as you continue this important work."
In a similar letter to Public Interest Projects, Broad wrote that his foundation had approved a $60,000 grant to support Public Interest Projects' "efforts to increase citizen awareness of the need for urban school reform."
"We are impressed with the mission of your organization and with your prior work in educating and informing the general public about community, health, and education issues. We are pleased to be able to support you as you continue this important work."
Within weeks after receiving the Broad Foundation money, both Essential Information and Public Interest Projects made their respective contributions to the Partnership for Student Achievement, which in turn spent the money to produce and air the anti-Zimmerman spots.
In the end, the Partnership's campaign backfired when a San Diego television station discovered the identity of Moores and the others who bankrolled the commercials. Broad escaped notice, thanks to his foundation-laundering ploy. The report also received newspaper coverage. With backing from the teachers' union, Zimmerman rode the backlash and was reelected.
But two years later, as Bersin sought again to bolster his board majority, Broad was back. Jeff Lee, a parent activist and a Zimmerman ally, faced off against Katherine Nakamura, the wife of an architect who specialized in school construction. Lee was endorsed by the San Diego Education Association, the teachers' union. Nakamura, who supported Bersin, was the chamber's choice.
The race between Lee and Nakamura to replace departing board member Sue Braun (another Bersin backer) was becoming a reprise of Zimmerman's reelection battle two years earlier against challenger Julie Dubick. But then, in August 2002, the Union-Tribune reported that it had "anonymously" obtained confidential military personnel records showing that Lee, a former Navy commander, had allegedly "abused subordinates" and been a "hostile leader."
Lee partisans suspected the material came from Pentagon sources related to retired high-ranking Navy and Marine officers whom Bersin had surrounded himself with as district bureaucrats. Bersin and the ex-brass denied any role, but the hit did its job.
Lee and his backers accused the U-T -- in particular Sunday "Opinion" writer Robert Caldwell, who wrote a 6700-word op-ed piece attacking Lee and boosting Bersin -- of distorting his service record for political gain. But the damage was done. Using clips from the newspaper, Broad poured $65,000 into hit pieces against Lee and incumbent John de Beck, who was running for reelection.
"I made an independent expenditure because I want to see the dramatic improvements in student achievement continue in San Diego," Broad said in a statement released by his office on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Nakamura narrowly beat Lee.
Fast forward two years to the spring of 2004. Jeff Lee was now pursuing a career as a professional chef, having enrolled in Grossmont College's culinary arts program. He passed the baton to his wife, Mitz, a native of the Philippines who many in the city's downtown establishment, including the Lincoln Club and the chamber of commerce, derided because she spoke with an accent.
This time, the teachers' union withheld its endorsement from both candidates, saying it could "work positively with either Mitz Lee or Miyo Reff." Reff, an ex-PTA president and former biotech worker, had wrapped up the chamber of commerce's endorsement, along with the backing of the AFL-CIO's San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council.
The teachers' union had never been a fan of the Lees, fearing that the couple, both Republicans, would prove too independent and unpredictable when it came time to negotiate a new labor contract with the district. Although the union endorsed him in 2002, Jeff Lee wasn't the first choice. In the 2002 primary, the union backed Johnnie Perkins, a trash-company lobbyist with ties to his former boss, ex-San Diego city councilman Byron Wear, and Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the labor council. Only after Perkins was defeated did the teachers' union throw its support to Jeff Lee.