Do it like a pro

Q:  How do you influence elections with a big money war chest without jeopardizing your efforts by publicly exposing yourself and donors?

A:  Start a stealthy PAC and file campaign disclosures so late no one knows until after the election who your donors are or how much they donated.

You do it like a real pro—or two.

abramoff.bannerYou’ll recall Election Day 2012 was Tuesday, November 6. Sensitive campaign information disclosed on Fair Political Practice forms filed in early November would become public too late for opponents to use in any attempt to inform voters and influence the election.

A political action committee named “Santa Clara County Schools PAC, Supporting Grace Mah and David Neighbors for County Board of Education and Opposing Anna Song 2012” was organized in 2012. With that name, its goals were not very stealthy, which explains why its name changed to “Santa Clara County Schools PAC.”

The mailing address on SCC Schools PAC 2012 Forms 410/460 filed Nov. 2, 2012 was 300 South First Street, Ste. 340, San Jose, CA 95113, also the address of Catapult Strategies, Inc. owned by San Jose political consultant Jude Barry, next door to the former location of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

According to www.getcatapult.com “Catapult Strategies, Inc. is a Silicon Valley-based social media, public relations, and political consulting firm with strong ties to and extensive knowledge of Silicon Valley business and political communities. [Jude] is a member of the Board of Directors of the University of San Francisco and Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Leo McCarthy Center for Public Service and Common Good at USF.”

The phone number on SCC Schools PAC 2012 Forms 410/460 filed Nov. 2, 2012 was 415-689-8939, also the phone number of Jay Rosenthal, owner of JMR Strategic, based in San Francisco.

According to www.jmrstrategic.com “JMR Strategic is a strategic communications firm focused on public affairs, public relations, politics, and media. JMR Strategic excels in challenging situations where government, politics, and media intersect. [Jay] is a former Vice President for Public Policy at the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce serving as the chief architect of the Chamber’s public policy and political efforts and as the organization’s spokesperson. Prior to the Chamber, Rosenthal served as Vice President of Catapult Strategies, Inc. for four years.”

FPPC filings indicate that Santa Clara County Schools PAC paid Creative Strategies, Inc. and Jay Rosenthal at least $32,500 each, but $65,000 is just a drop in the proverbial bucket in this intriguing story.

It’s important to know that prior to the Nov. 2012 election, campaigns for Santa Clara County Board of Education were ‘penny ante’ stakes. In recent years, campaigns have been run entirely without a campaign committee, some campaigns spend as little as $100 and the big spenders report $10-15,000 in costs. (For her 2008 re-election to the Board of Education, Mah’s own campaign committee reported just $11,500 in expenditures.)

Education reporter Sharon Noguchi tried to get the word out via this article published in the San Jose Mercury News on Oct. 31, 2012, but it was obviously far too late for anyone to act on the news if they even read it amidst all the noisy campaigning going on at that time. At press time, $196K in donations had been reported, which candidate Song rightly called, “[…]an outrageous amount of money[…]” but that wasn’t even close to the final total.

SCC Schools PAC eventually raised $296K to re-elect Mah and defeat Song.

Given all the turmoil in Santa Clara County today with regard to charter schools created by the County Board of Education, I think voters would’ve liked to know:

  • Who’s donating that kind of money, why do they so badly want to re-elect Grace Mah and what has Anna Song done to make someone want to oust her?
  • Who’s paying Jude Barry and Jay Rosenthal $65K to run a low profile campaign to control two seats on the Santa Clara County Board of Education?

Here’s a list of the big money donors to Santa Clara County Schools PAC 2012:

SCCS PAC LA-LAH Donors 2012

Almost none of this money came from within Santa Clara County but it’s pretty obvious that charter school heavyweights want Grace Mah on the Santa Clara County County Board of Education. The opposite is true for Anna Song.

Coming from Palo Alto as she does, you might imagine that a PAC formed to re-elect Grace Mah would attract Palo Alto donors, but this isn’t true of SCC Schools PAC. Maybe Palo Alto is still stinging from Mah’s 2005-2007 battle against the PAUSD over creating a Mandarin Immersion program.

My hunch is that the really big money gets committed early but not actually received until the dates shown on the FPPC forms. For example, California Charter Schools Assn., Reed Hastings and Eli Broad made $100K in donations less than 2 weeks before election day. I doubt they decided at the last minute to go big with donations. Someone cleverly and strategically floated campaign expenses for SCC Schools PAC until the last minute.

There is an LASD angle to this. Donations to SCC Schools PAC from our community were some of the first recorded. What has Grace Mah done for, and what has Anna Song done against, the pro-charter movement in LASD? Much more on that yet to come.

SCCS PAC Big Donors 2012

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