Lorena Gonzalez was one signature away from passing a sweeping piece of legislation to reform California election law.
Governor Jerry Brown, however, would not go along.
Brown vetoed Gonzalez’ bill, AB 1431, that would have outlawed public school administrators from fundraising unlimited amounts of campaign cash for board members of K-12 and community college districts. AB 1431 was passed by the state assembly and California senate in August. Brown’s veto message said he did not think it was fair to single out one class of people for the prohibition. He left the door open, however, for future legislation.
Gonzalez (D-San Diego) and Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) co-authored the bill to prohibit administrators of school districts and community college districts from accepting contributions for the campaign of an elected official of the district employing the administrator. AB 1431 also would have prohibited an elected official from asking an administrator to receive campaign contributions.
Gonzalez said AB 1431 was inspired by the “pay-to-play” scandal that led to the South Bay Corruption Case, which resulted in 15 indictments of elected officials, including eight with Southwestern College connections.
Administrators had political prominence due to their access to campaign funding from potential architects and building contractors vying for multi-million dollar contracts.
“The superintendent was having too large of a say in who our school board members were or community college members were,” said Gonzalez. “They did that by raising unlimited amounts of funds for those members.”
Gonzalez said the issue became a serious conflict of interest.
“The superintendent should have been accountable to the board, should of been accountable to the students and the voters,” she said. “But instead the board became accountable to (administrators).”
SWC Governing Board Member Humberto Peraza said superintendents were getting too involved in politics.
“There should never be a time where a superintendent is calling somebody that does business at the college or any school district asking them for money to give to candidates,” he said.
SWC Governing Board Member Tim Nader agreed.
“Administrators should be focused on educational access and results,” he said, “not on political fundraising for their preferred bosses.”
SWC President Dr. Melinda Nish said that the campaign reform bill would not have a major impact on future SWC campaigns.
“It bans college administrators from raising money for a specific candidate,” she said. “College administrators generally want to remain neutral when there is an election going on because you never can predict the outcome.”
Gonzalez said legislation is necessary.
“Hopefully it’ll restore balance in our electoral process when dealing with community college boards and school board,” she said. “ (It) takes (administrators) out of the equation and allows the voters and individuals to kind of make that determination and that’s where it should be.”