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After Years Of Mudslinging, This LAUSD Campaign Could Set Records For Positive Advertising

Two brown-skinned women sit on a stage in upholstered chairs during a candidate debate. The woman on the right, in a pink shirt and floral skirt, holds a microphone and is speaking. The woman on the left wears a suit jacket, orange shirt, and listens.
Rocío Rivas (right) and María Brenes participate in a candidate roundtable during the campaign for the L.A. Unified School Board's District 2 seat on Oct. 11, 2022.
(Ryanne Mena
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Los Angeles Unified school board campaigns are not only some of the nation’s most expensive local school elections, they’re also famously ugly.

In 2020, outside political interest groups spent $6 million on negative advertising — a record amount of mudslinging in what was the most expensive LAUSD election ever.

This year has been different. After setting records for negative advertising two years ago, outside spenders will very likely set records for positive advertising in this year’s LAUSD race, according to an LAist analysis of campaign finance records.

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Because of strict limits on LAUSD candidates’ own fundraising, spending by outside political groups has dominated LAUSD races for the last decade. Legally, candidates cannot control these “independent expenditures” or the content of the advertising these expenditures buy. Still, candidates know the endorsement of a well-heeled group — one that can mount an independent expenditure campaign — can make or break their candidacy.

So far, the candidates themselves have raised a collective total of $1.9 million for their own campaigns, which is a slightly higher total than usual, though the sums pale in comparison to the amounts of independent expenditures in the race.

And one candidate has benefitted from more independent spending this year than any other in recent history: María Brenes.

Brenes, a community organizer running against Rocío Rivas for the open District 2 seat covering parts of central and east L.A., has benefitted from more than $2.6 million-worth of supportive advertising from SEIU Local 99, a union representing many non-teaching LAUSD employees, and $2.3 million from teachers union critics Bill Bloomfield and Reed Hastings.

Brenes has benefitted from more independently funded positive advertising than any LAUSD candidate ever: more than $5.1 million-worth.

Bloomfield and Hastings are also responsible for what are officially the only attack ads of this year’s general election cycle: $422,000 spent criticizing Rivas, who has the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles.

If you count this spending against her chief opponent, Brenes is the third-biggest beneficiary from independent expenditures in LAUSD history.

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UTLA has poured almost all of its resources into a campaign rallying support for Rivas, who currently works as an aide for current District 5 board member Jackie Goldberg. The union has spent $2.8 million on ads supporting Rivas’ bid for the District 2 seat.

Officially, they’ve spent nothing on negative ads in the race. This UTLA mailer does take a swipe at Brenes, though the official campaign finance database apparently doesn’t count this as a negative ad.

Overall, spending on this year’s LAUSD races is way down from previous years, with $10.5 million in independent expenditures so far. More than 80% of that spending is concentrated on District 2.

The last time an election was held for LAUSD’s even-numbered board districts, outside spenders set what was then a record with $14.8 million in 2017. Three years later, they set a new record, with $16.6 million in independent expenditures.

What questions do you have about K-12 education in Southern California?
Kyle Stokes reports on the public education system — and the societal forces, parental choices and political decisions that determine which students get access to a “good” school (and how we define a “good school”).