CHULA VISTA, Calif. – A California school board yesterday approved campaign finance reform as several of its members face criminal charges for pay-to-play corruption.
The Sweetwater Union School District school board voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of a $750 limit on contributions from individuals to school board candidates. The district’s previously unlimited contribution policy led some board candidates to accept very large contributions from teachers unions and construction contractors, according to media reports.
The measure says contributions can only come from individuals.
School board trustees Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez, and Pearl Quinones are facing corruption charges for allegedly accepting thousands of dollars in gifts and meals for awarding school construction contracts to contributing companies, NBC reports.
Some local residents who attended the board meeting where the new rules were approved told the San Diego Union-Tribune the measure was not only necessary, but long overdue.
“This is the fifth time this issue has been on the agenda in two years,” local resident Maty Adato said. “They’ve never wanted to adopt it.”
It’s easy to see why.
NBC reports board president Jim Cartmill accepted a $20,000 contribution from SGI Construction Management during his reelection campaign in 2010, when the company was working in the district as part of a $644 million voter-approved bond measure.
The $750 contribution limit approved by the board “would apply to both campaign committees and also to legal defense funds, which are additional separate fundraising mechanisms that elected officials may use when they’re facing particular illegal matters related to their office,” Christine Cameron, an attorney working for the district, told the Union-Tribune.
“The resolution also provides that at a later time the board would develop procedures for investigating violations of the rules but in the meantime a complaint submitted to the superintendent and signed by the complainant would have to be investigated using an independent investigator,” she said.
The Sweetwater district’s troubles with the toxic influence of third parties are not unique. In districts across the country, local teachers unions spend heavily to help elect local school board candidates who later have a direct influence over the union’s labor contract negotiations. It’s the primary method teachers unions have used to control local education spending and policy for decades.
Parents and local taxpayers in every school district in America would be wise to review their local campaign finance laws and encourage officials to limit the influence of teachers unions and other special interests on school board elections.