Los Angeles Board of Education President Jose Huizar has raised more than $330,000 for his reelection, much of it from construction-related companies and individuals involved in the school district's massive school building program.
Huizar, who spent about $194,000 on his first election in 2001, is running unopposed next month, as are two other school board members.
But unlike his colleagues, Huizar -- who is considered a rising political star with ambitions of running for higher office -- continued to raise money after his only opponent dropped out. Three weeks after that candidate withdrew, a fundraiser for Huizar with mostly construction- related companies netted nearly $50,000, city records show.
Additionally, Huizar's largest campaign contributor last year was the teachers union, which gave him $32,500.
Huizar, who initially referred comments about contributions to his campaign manager but later agreed to an interview, said he wanted to build a broad coalition of supporters -- rather than rely on any one group for funds -- particularly because his district boundaries had been changed since he took office. Huizar's district stretches from Boyle Heights to Mid-Wilshire and also includes Chinatown, Koreatown and the Pico-Union area.
"I feel very confident and comfortable with the way we have gone about fundraising," Huizar said. "I was going to run a campaign regardless of whether I had an opponent or not. I needed to communicate with my new district.... [I wanted] to introduce myself and say: 'Here I am, your new board member; hold me accountable.' "
John Shallman, Huizar's campaign manager, said the board president prepared a "vigorous campaign" because of redistricting but also because previous board members had been targeted for defeat.
Shallman, who also manages former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's campaign for mayor, said he saw no problem in Huizar's support from the building industry. The Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a $14-billion school construction program to relieve overcrowding.
"I don't think it's inappropriate at all for an industry that sees building schools as a good thing to support a guy who agrees with them," he said.
Campaign rules for the school district's seven board positions fall under state law, and as a result, there are no limits on the amount of money that candidates can raise. Nor are there rules about the types of companies that can give money to school board candidates.
In some instances, state law allows candidates to transfer money from one election account to another. The Los Angeles Ethics Commission says it has never issued a formal judgment on whether money from a school board race could be transferred to city races, which have strict finance rules.
Huizar, 35, has said that he has been approached in recent months by supporters asking him about his next political move. But Shallman said Huizar "does not want to be perceived as someone who wants to bank money for future runs."
When Huizar took over the presidency of the school board in 2003, he was seen as a consensus candidate between two competing factions. United Teachers Los Angeles and the Coalition for Kids, a campaign committee backed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire Eli Broad, had spent millions of dollars in the previous two elections trying to win support for their handpicked candidates.
Huizar has received backing from both factions. Though the Coalition for Kids is no longer active, Broad gave Huizar $5,000 in 2004.
The teachers union has a history of supporting candidates who share its philosophy on how to reform education -- and who vote accordingly, said UTLA President John Perez. The union endorsed Huizar in this and his previous campaign.
When the union pledged $25,000 to Huizar for a November fundraiser, it chose the sum because the board president had opposition, Perez said. But after that opponent -- Manuel Aldana Jr. -- withdrew, the teachers union decided to honor its promise.
"In politics, as in real life, your word is your bond," Perez said. When Aldana dropped out, he said, "we felt morally obligated to do what we said we were going to do. We made a commitment.... We're [Huizar's] biggest contributor because there happened to be an opponent at the time. If he had had no opponent, we wouldn't have made the contribution."
The two other school board members running for reelection March 8 -- Marlene Canter and Julie Korenstein -- stopped raising money after they realized that they were unopposed, though each received some contributions late in the year. Shallman is running both campaigns.
Canter, who funded much of her last campaign with personal money, raised about $75,000 in 2004. Korenstein raised about $85,000 last year, mostly from individual contributions and unions.
"It's very nice not having to go out there and beg for money," said Korenstein, who is routinely backed by the teachers union.