How to beat corrosive outside money in this election

Candidates for public office rarely talk about what it’s like to be a candidate for public office. But with all eyes on the role of money in LA School Board races, I thought I’d take a moment to speak my truth: I love meeting supporters, but I hate raising money.

I know that’s what every candidate says. “I just want to spend time with my constituents,” they swear. But once elected, they become singularly focused on reelection. And that means their priorities become donors first, constituents second. The average member of Congress spends four hours per day on the phone, growing their bank accounts, not yours.

This is corrosive to our democracy. It occurs because the only way to beat outside money — at least for the moment — is inside money. Outside groups can spend unlimited money on campaigns, and face little regulation. Libel laws are ineffective, images and text can be appropriated without consequence, and flyers can be disguised to look like they come directly from campaigns themselves, or worse, from non-partisan non-political sources. In our race for school board, there’s already been over $2 million in outside spending, most of it negative.

It’s a shame that voters in a post-Citizens United world can’t always differentiate between legitimate, direct campaign spending and special interest dark money. The confusion has gotten so bad that voters conflate official campaigns with unaffiliated outside groups, lacking a means to effectively filter all the information they receive. Rather than helping clarify the confusion, the press reports process stories about outside money, instead of the issues at stake.

Here’s the bottom line: my campaign is not about outside money, it’s about reimagining the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve students’ lives.

There is a way to beat outside spending — to outsmart it, out-organize it, and out-run it: to get engaged, read about the candidates on our websites, meet us in person, and vote.

In the coming weeks, you’ll see material labeled: “Paid for by Nick Melvoin for School Board.” This material will tell you who I am, and highlight my ideas about finally putting kids first. What you won’t see are character attacks on my opponents, cryptic messages, or scare-tactics.

What will be present is a plan: “LIGHT.”

Local control and autonomy — putting control of schools into the hands of parents and communities, instead of funneling all the power and decisionmaking through the central bureaucracy.

Innovation and creative thinking — fostering support for new and improved teaching methods, technological solutions that make sense for students, and raising money for much-needed capital improvements to our school buildings and classrooms.

Great choices for LA families — making sure that when students, parents, and teachers collaborate to identify the best educational option for a child, it is made available regardless of his or her zip code.

Human development and support — providing benefits as well as financial and professional development support for our deserving teachers. A thriving school system depends on world-class teachers, and they will have my full support.

Transparency and accountability — improving our schools and increasing local control requires greater transparency. LA Unified faces a $13.5 billion unfunded pension liability, and has been plagued by mismanagement and poor public accountability. To build trust in our communities between schools, students, teachers, and central administrators, the district must unite behind sound fiscal reform and technological modernization. In particular, we must revamp the website to make it easier to access performance, spending, and decision making data.

That’s our plan to LIGHT a new path for LAUSD. Everything else is noise.

On March 7th, I ask you to put your kids before politics. Voting is our most sacred civic duty, and it’s how you can make your voice heard over the influence of excessive spending.

Nick Melvoin is a teacher, attorney, and advocate running for Los Angeles Unified School District Board in District 4.