fbpx

Civic Leaders Fund Their Own Interests in AD54’s Special Election

EDUCATION POLITICS-There’s a political newcomer in AD54 (extending across eastern West-LA to western South-LA) who has burst on the scene with startling presence.

Gregarious and appealing, Isaac Bryan has a hard luck story that scans like the Parable of the Prodigal Son of modern society, ready to make up for former academic and behavioral lapses with his personal charisma and gilded fluency in issues of social justice. 

But if Mr Bryan is society’s prodigal son, then who is conferring the proverbial inheritance? It is Los Angeles’ power-elite. They have anointed his candidacy, and bestowed, along with their blessing, sufficient money to backfill the void of Bryan’s limited political history with mountains of glossy mailers and a tsunami of communications via public airwaves. A political neophyte with neither experience nor a functional vision for crafting legislation, his fallback is a great series of endorsements that mostly just reflect the might of his economic base: the establishment itself.

Following is the mandated reporting of donations organized to assist the voter in following the money-trail for yourself.

The donor-framework that characterizes this campaign is present from its outset (table 1) [pdf hyperlink can be magnified]. Donations in the first two days (netting 6% of the total to date) engaged many of LA’s modern City Engineers:  the machine-politicians the Ridley-Thomas’ (both), the school system’s venture-capitalist superintendent Beutner, philanthropy-sourced dollars from high-tech (Netflix) and the film industry (Disney), and an articulating web of social and racial justice activists and lawyers, from philanthropy-fueled think tanks and other public-private strongholds.

Table 1: Founding contributors to Isaac Bryan’s campaign, 12/16/21 & 12/17/21. Including particularly philanthropists and political strategists from LA City and County, and Luskin School of Public Policy

A central focus of this initial (and subsequent, too) funding is the Meyer and Renee Luskin “School of Public Policy”. Redolent of privately funded think-tanks mimicking academia or publicly-funded research institutions, Luskin is an Institute operating with non-transparent, private donations from within the shadow of LA’s own public UC – UCLA. Many of Mr. Bryan’s supporters as does he himself, trace their economic well-being to that particular public-private partnership (PPP), or to this paradigm in general. Rather than support a campaign with democratic appeal from among the public that buoys up the qualified and experienced, this campaign is gerrymandered by a parochial school of singularly-funded thought.

Mr. Bryan’s message is very narrow. He is a skilled narrator, selected to uplift the story of our time:  systemic oppression. The trouble is that not only is racial and criminal justice reform the issue of the hour, it is also the story of the decade and the century and the millennium. Equity is an imperative as essential now as ever before. We should be wary of promises for its delivery from an agent of the very power structure that entrenches it. This is a statewide office concerned with an array of political matters from the environment to education, housing and healthcare as well as social justice. The irony is that while nominally dedicated to this specific issue, systemic change, the interest of the campaign’s funding lies in sustaining the status quo. While this economic might tips the scale of democratic election, it also gives some clues to the ramification and driving agenda of the long-standing power structure as well.

This power structure is sustained in perpetuity by taking and giving from both ends. It is fueled from the upper class by wealth disparity. As disproportionate amounts accrue to the upper class, from this excess stems plenty to jumpstart a campaign from nowhere (table 1). And that campaign itself feeds from another feature of wealth imbalance that includes underfunded (and not surprisingly underperforming) public resources. In this schema the public sector goes begging, even while individuals of the upper class grow ever wealthier. These uber-wealthy are therefore privileged by this system which rewards not just race but more flagrantly, their class: the rich get richer, and ever-increasingly more so. But it is the “out-flow” of the upper-class’s under-regulated gains, that is the real key. The excess gain is secured and securitized through an integrated web of philanthropy targeted at the under-resourced public sector. A vast array of PPPs is supported by this system, specifically in service of mitigating the collateral damage actually flowing from the system. This is the currency of entrenched, systematized wealth inequality:  ‘philanthropic-venture’ capital in PPPs.

In particular, criminal justice (or more generally racial justice) reform is an idea annexed by the philanthropy class in receipt of benefit (it is well-described by Anand Girardhiras as “doing-well-by-doing-good).“ And Mr. Bryan’s campaign is in receipt of donations from a long list of individuals associated with these Not-For-Profit organizations, collectively searching to “socially engineer” (the literal self-described profession of one donor’s linkedin) society into a better space. It is the height of irony that this system of PPPs itself, often innocently at the level of those employed, winds up depauperizing just those public sectors actually mandated to provide a social safety net.

It’s the same story as with charter “public” schools. Money has to go somewhere. Enabling and allowing an uber-wealthy private class that siphons money from public pockets and then doles it back into spaces controlled through the generosity of its “philanthropy”, is condoning a political underclass perennially impoverished by a generosity actually invested in its plight.

We can do better. We can vote for politicians with ideas to benefit us, not be indebted to a sealed system that entrenches inequity in place.

Table 2 organizes contributions to both of Isaac Bryans’ assembly campaigns (2021 & 2022; reported by 5/6/21) according to the type of funding source, whether from a political campaign, PAC (or business), union or individual. Within these categories the source of that money is characterized, coming from the “retired” to politicians to strategists, researchers and analysts to plutocrats.

Table 2: Contributors to AD54 candidate for State Assembly Isaac Bryan’s two candidate’s campaign accounts, 12/17/21 – 4/2/21 (DL 050621). Arranged by source of contribution {Campaign, Service Provider/PAC, Union, Individual} and organized by the character of contributor’s funding source, further displayed by employer (or the business’ type).

The campaign’s interests stem from the newly-completed elections of Sydney K-D ($7400) and her former boss, Holly Mitchell ($12300); they involve councilmember Mark RidleyThomas ($7300), his son Sebastian and his consultancy ($5100), together comprising 6% of current total donations. “Policy makers” collectively comprise 4% of the total (under “POLICY MAKER/AIDE in figure 2), including other municipal and education Chiefs (Bonin, Beutner, Johnson), and several Chiefs of Staff to this class. Categories are far from independent so many other such Chiefs are classified as “EXECUTIVE/CEO/FOUNDER/ADMINISTRATOR/ DEAN”, comprising 9% of Isaac Bryan’s total support currently.

Also driving the campaign is the local investor-philanthropist, and filmmaking-CEO (14%) class – Disney ($22K), Weaver ($9800), Daly ($4900), Biondi (Sony), Corwin (Metropolitan), Woodard (Bad Robot), Lansing (Paramount), &c.

But of particular concern is the top-heavy donations from the “retired” and “not-employed” (aka plutocrats; 14%):  Delaney (Real Estate -> Racial Justice), Bloomfield (Venture Capital -> Education/Government Reform), Quillen (Netflix -> Education/Immigration Reform), Luskin (Real Estate -> Public Policy), Lansing (Media -> Education Reform, PPP), among others. The list comprises 14% of the total, reflecting a confluence of philanthropic interests invested in the PPPs. These partnerships comprise private, non-transparent enterprises operating in the public sector, but without public input. Sometimes the ideology manifests in “charter schools” under the rubric of “Education Reform” (Quillen). Sometimes as anti-unionism within ‘Government Reform’ (Bloomfield), or sometimes as found here, {eg including ABUNDANT HOUSING, ADVANCEMENT PROJ, PRITZKER FF, ARE WE NEXT, BROTHERS, SONS, SELVES COALITION, BURNS INST, CA APPELLATE PROJ, CA COMMUNITY FDN, CA ENDOWMENT, CDTECH, CFY DEVELOPMENT, CDF, COALITION FOR HUMANE IMMIGRANT RIGHTS, COMMUNITY CLINIC ASSOC. OF LAC, COMMUNITY COALITION, COMMUNITY FAMILY CARE, IPA, COMMUNITY HEALTH COUNCILS, CONRAD N HILTON FDN, CROSSROADS EQUITY AND JUSTICE INST, ECMC FDN, EXED, EY, FAIR AND JUST PROSECUTION, GIRLS CLUB OF LOS ANGELES, GOOD SEED, CJR, HEALTH INNOVATORS CLUB, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, IMMIGRANT DEFENDERS LAW CTR, JUST LEADERSHIP, JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE, LA DEFENSA, LA ROOM & BOARD, LA84 FDN, LEGACY LA YDC, LIBERTY HILL FDN, MAYOR’S FUND FOR LA, MICHELSON 20MM FDN, NALEO EDUCATIONAL FUND, NAMI GLAC, PCITI INTNL, PICO CA, RALPH M. PARSONS FDN, REFORM ALLIANCE, REPRESENT JUSTICE, REVOLVE IMPACT, RISIST, ROWE POLICY + MEDIA, ROWENA GROUP, ROY AND PATRICIA DISNEY FF, SANCTUARY OF HOPE, SLAUSON & CO., SNAP FDN, SOCIAL GOOD SOLN, SOCIAL JUSTICE LEARNING INSTITUTE, SSG, ST. JOHNS WELL CHILD & FAMILY CTR, ST. JOSEPH CTR, TIDES CTR, TOWER26, TRANSLATIN@ COALITION, TRUST SOUTH L.A, TURN 2 SOLNS, UWGLA, VCH, VERA INST OF JUSTICE, WELLNEST, YES, YOUTH ALIVE!, YWFC} as social welfare NFPs (13% of total donations) operating within the space of Criminal or Racial Justice Reform.

There is a heavy presence of individuals and consultancies devoted to devising philanthropic ventures (10%+) around social justice or messaging (3%+) their success. The PPPs are operated by a class of quasi-public servants with fealty to both sides of the public-private partnership. Often trained by, administering or faculty of quasi-public training grounds such as the Luskin Institute, these individuals comprise a class, which also includes the political (8%) and legal (6%) services, who are heavily invested in Mr Bryan’s campaign. Righteous though their causes may truly be, the maintenance of a huge private economy trafficking in the injustice of an underfunded public welfare system does not constitute a systemic Good. It amounts to privatizing the public sector of government, even while that is systematically un-funded. 

So what now? As constituted, this campaign for statewide office is as provincial as they come, structured to and for the elites who created and funded this narrow issue, according to the agenda they control. If theirs were the straight path to racial justice, why has the establishment’s game plan yet yielded so little in this regard? We need politicians whose fealty is not with the establishment, the longevity of their power and the money that ensures it. To evaluate that alternative, Mr. Bryan’s campaign should not be allowed to preempt broader concerns. To evaluate issues of privatization, governance, the environment, infrastructure and education, please vote for a candidate who will force a runoff and a real conversation.

My choice is Dallas Fowler, a two-time delegate for Bernie Sanders and daughter of this district who has pounded its pavement for years. But your preference may be for another; my request is that you choose from those with an authentic, thoughtful, deep and broad record of effectiveness. Silver-platter handouts don’t count toward the sweat of accomplishment; actual  performance, and ideas deeper than the patina burnished by a focus-group, do.

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista and elected member of LACDP (AD54), a biostatistician, the parent of two LAUSD graduates and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com).

-cw