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Outside cash hits Burbank schools race

Political action committees anti up for, against, local candidates.

March 22, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan and Alene Tchekmedyian

Spending by political action committees has become increasingly common in Burbank city and school board races this year, apparently catching the candidates who benefited from that spending off guard.

School board candidates David Dobson and Charlene Tabet said they were surprised to learn that two committees had spent more than $26,000 in promotional material supporting their campaigns — far more than any school board candidate has raised so far in this year's race.

Both political action committees belong to the educational reform group StudentsFirst, led by former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. So-called independent expenditure committees are prohibited from coordinating with the candidates they target.

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Meanwhile, City Council incumbent Jess Talamantes was just as puzzled that an anti-Walmart, labor union-sponsored PAC raised $20,000 in an effort to unseat him. As of their most recent expenditure report filed last month, the group spent $8,300 on campaign mailers.

The group, Burbank Residents Opposed to Jess Talamantes Slashing Public Safety, is being bankrolled by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770 political action committee, which represents roughly 35,000 workers in the retail food industry, about 800 of whom live in Burbank.

But it's hardly the first time outside groups have been involved in local elections. In 2011, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 spent $42,110 to support Bob Frutos in his unsuccessful bid for the dais and to oppose Emily Gabel-Luddy, who was successful. Frutos — who received no independent expenditure support this year — won a seat on the council last month by capturing more than 50% of the vote in the primary.

The IBEW also spent $18,861 in 2011 on Councilman Gary Bric's reelection campaign.

According to Cal State Fullerton political science professor Sarah Hill, StudentsFirst's participation in supporting candidates in large school districts is not unheard of, but she's puzzled over the group's involvement in Burbank.

“It makes sense that they're going after large districts,” Hill said. “I don't get Burbank. That's the mystery I don't have any answer to and I'm really curious to find out.”

StudentsFirst has a history of drawing backlash from teacher unions for seeking to base teacher evaluations on student test scores and pushing for charter schools to reform public education.

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