Even as more Los Angeles politicians are pledging to refuse contributions from Walmart, one candidate with Walton family support placed third in the closely-watched June 6th primary for Assembly District 46 in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley.
Charter school champion Brian Johnson lost the race despite massive independent expenditures on his behalf by political action committees, including two that are closely tied to Carrie Walton Penner and her husband Greg Penner. Ms. Penner is the daughter of Walmart Chairman Rob Walton and Mr. Penner is a member of the Walmart Board of Directors.
PAC spending was widely expected to carry Johnson into the general election. But in the end it may have hurt more than it helped.
Johnson was put on the defensive by winning candidate Adrin Nazarian’s charge that “right-wing anti-teacher organizations funded by the owners of the Walmart Corporation are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to elect Brian Johnson to the Assembly.”
Johnson’s campaign issued a response which implied that Nazarian’s claim was unfounded, but campaign finance records suggest otherwise.
In the first place, Carrie Walton Penner contributed $7,800 directly to Johnson’s campaign, according to reports filed with the California Secretary of State. But this is not the whole story because Johnson’s campaign spent just $367,000, while independent committees backing him reportedly poured another $1.5 million into the race.
There is good reason to believe the Penners contributed to Johnson via these independent committees. In April, Carrie Penner contributed $128,500 to the Edvoice Independent Expenditure Committee, an organization to which she has given more than $600,000 since 2010. During the campaign, Edvoice made more than $166,900 in independent expenditures on Johnson’s behalf.
Another political committee that backed Johnson was Govern for California, established last year by Greg Penner and two associates, the multi-millionaire retired banker and former Swarzenegger adviser David Crane and billionaire high-tech investor Ron Conway. Govern for California pumped more than $191,000 into efforts on Johnson’s behalf, according to our analysis of campaign finance reports.
The one-percenters who backed Johnson share a commitment to a narrow vision of education reform and a deep dislike for teachers unions. As Reuters explains, their agenda includes:
Expanding charter schools, which are publicly funded but typically run by private firms; evaluating teachers in large part by their students’ scores on standardized tests; and abolishing the seniority rules that protect veteran teachers from layoffs.
The Penners have played a leading role in the Walton family’s efforts to undermine public education and blame teachers for the problems facing public schools.
Beyond the issue of education, Govern for California’s founders have made it clear that they view public sector workers as “narrow special interests” whose pay and pensions should be cut to solve California’s fiscal crisis (see also here, here, and here).
Johnson was the first candidate publicly supported by Penner’s Govern for California organization. Despite the organization’s PR-efforts, it is clearly a defeat for them that he failed to advance to the general election.
As people around the nation and around the globe increasingly recognize how Walmart hurts our economy and the Walmart 1 Percent distort our democracy, taking money from Walmart or the Walton family may carry an increasing downside for politicians concerned with winning elections.