(First published June 19, 2021, 6 a.m.)
In only a few short weeks, San Francisco voters will go to the polls to decide whether three elected members of the city’s school board will keep their jobs.
Board President Gabriela López, Commissioner Alison Collins, and Commissioner Faauuga Moliga will all be on the ballot on Feb. 15. Out of the seven members of the school board, only those three were eligible to be recalled, as the other four had not served long enough.
Leaders of the recall insist that, had they been eligible, at least a few of the other commissioners would have been on the recall ballot as well.
Debate over the recall has been intense and, at times, polarizing. Supporters of the recall point toward the city’s long school closures during the pandemic, the elimination of selective admission at Lowell High School and the attempt to rename 44 high schools during the pandemic as evidence that the school board is unfit to serve. On the flip side, opponents say that the election is part of a wider pattern in which recalls of progressives are being funded by big money and right-wing activists.
Buckets of ink have been spilled by savvier commentators than me on the pros and cons of the school board in particular and recalls in general. Instead of wading into fraught ideological territory, let’s take a look at one concrete indicator of how the election is shaping up: funding.
But first …
A note about the data
As of this week, the San Francisco Ethics Commission data shows donations up to Jan. 12, but it does not show all donations. Thanks to baroque filing rules, donations from mid-September to mid-November have not yet been declared. And, from November onward, donations of less than $1,000 are also left out.
These gaps should be filled early next month, as all committees will be required to disclose donors from the past six months on Jan. 31. Until then, our data is incomplete.
This all means that our analysis should be taken with a cautious asterisk. Nonetheless, the data currently available can still give us lots of insight into the recall campaign and can show us some of its biggest players.
With that caveat acknowledged, let’s dive in.
Who is funding the recall effort?
There are two committees raising money in favor of the recall. The first is called Recall School Board Members Lopez, Collins, & Moliga, and was set up in February, 2021.
The committee is run jointly by Siva Raj and Autumn Looijen. Raj has two children in public San Francisco schools, while Looijen’s three children are in Los Altos. The pair, who moved to the city in December, 2020, came under some criticism for appearing on conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s show to promote the recall last March.
The second committee is called Concerned Parents Supporting The Recall Of Collins, Lopez, And Moliga, and was set up more recently. They began taking donations in late November, 2021.
This committee is run by Todd David, a public school parent and executive director of the advocacy group Housing Action Coalition. David has been involved in several political causes in San Francisco: He was political director of the Scott Wiener’s 2016 State Senate campaign, campaign manager for the 2016 campaign to secure Recreation and Parks funding, and a founding member of the San Francisco Parents PAC in 2010.
Take a look at the chart below to see who has been donating to each committee. The size of the circle indicates the size of the donation and the color indicates donors’ occupations. Hover over each point for more information and use the search bar to find specific donors.
Two committees in favor of the recall have raised almost $1.3 million between them
Please note that not all donations are captured by this chart, due to filing deadlines. The occupation group of donors who gave less than $10,000 was determined by self-report; the occupation group of donors who gave more than $10,000 was determined by our investigations.
The first committee has attracted a large number of smaller donations — their typical donation is $100 — while the Concerned Parents committee has gone after bigger fish.
“Siva and Autumn did a phenomenal job of grassroots organizing,” said Todd David, the principal officer of the Concerned Parents committee. But his committee, he explained, was going to focus more on finding larger donors.
“We cast a wide net for donors that we thought had a capacity to donate,” he said.
This includes the biggest donor to the campaign so far, 95-year-old billionaire Arthur Rock, who dropped $350,000 on Nov. 30. Rock had already donated $49,500 to the Recall School Board committee in August, bringing his total contribution up to $399,500.
Rock was a major and early investor in Apple and other tech companies, and has recently been advocating for charter schools. In 2020, he made a significant donation to the Oakland school board election, giving pro-charter school PAC Power2Families $37,500.
The second largest contributor to the school board recall will be a familiar name to anyone following the recall effort against District Attorney Chesa Boudin: the Neighbors for a Better San Francisco PAC.
The Neighbors PAC gave $238,800 to the school board recall this January. The PAC is funded by a small number of extremely wealthy donors, including billionaires and multi-millionaires Miriam L. Haas, Paul Holden Spaht Jr., and Jason Moment. The majority of money for the Boudin recall came from this PAC.
Find OUT MORE ABOUT THE NEIGHBORS PAC AND THE BOUDIN RECALL
Here are the other top donors to the school board recall:
- David Sacks: Tech investor, former COO of PayPal, founder of Yammer, and financier of 2007 satirical anti-lobbying film Thank You For Smoking. He has given $74,500 to the school board recall. He also gave $75,000 to the Boudin recall.
- The California Association Of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC: A PAC associated with the real estate trade organization of the same name, it has given $55,900.
- The California Real Estate PAC: Another PAC associated with the same real estate trade organization, it has given $29,000.
- Garry Tan: Tech investor and founder of Initialized Capital. He has donated $15,001 to the school board recall. He also gave $50,500 to the Boudin recall.
- Zach Rosen: Co-founder of tech company Pantheon Systems. He has donated $15,001 to the school board recall.
So, how grassroots is the campaign funding?
It depends on how you slice the data.
The typical donation sits at $100, and the vast majority of donors gave less than $1,000. The first committee, run by Raj and Looijen, saw several hundred of these small donations.
The vast majority of donors
donated less than $1,000.
88 donors gave
between $1,000 and $10,000
17 donors gave
$10,000 or more
780 donors gave
less than $1,000
The vast majority
of donors donated
less than $1,000.
17 donors gave
$10,000 or more
780 donors gave
less than $1,000
88 donors gave
between $1,000 and $10,000
However, because of just how exceedingly big the campaign’s big donations were, the vast majority of dollars raised were nonetheless from wealthy donors.
The vast majority of money
raised is from large donors.
$123,602 has been raised by donors who gave less than $1,000
$930,702 has been raised
by donors who gave
$10,000 or more
$238,268 has been raised
by donors who gave
between $1,000 and $10,000
The vast majority
of money raised is
from large donors.
$123,602 has been raised by
donors who gave less than $1,000
$238,268 has been raised
by donors who gave
between $1,000 and $10,000
$930,702 has been raised by
donors who gave $10,000 or more
How is the money being spent?
We do not have all the committees’ spending data, as the campaign is ongoing and it has not all been released yet. However, we can still see a hefty chunk of their spending.
In current Ethics Commission data, the primary expense for the recall is paid signature-gatherers. A little over half a million dollars went to a handful of companies used for circulating petitions, chief among them Accelevate 2020 and Prosperb Media.
Interestingly, the owner of Prosperb Media is Josephine Zhao, who ran to be on the school board in 2018. Her campaign failed after she became embroiled in a transphobia scandal. Back in 2018, she publicly apologized for transphobic remarks made in newspapers five years prior. At the same time, she sent private messages over Chinese language app WeChat decrying the cow demons and snake spirits who called out her comments, and celebrated that the controversy had made her “even more well-known.”
Zhao’s company has received $111,202 from the recall campaign.
Now that the recall is firmly on the ballot, Todd David said that the primary focus of spending will shift to “political communications,” meaning social media ads, leaflet drops, and other ways of getting out the message.
But wait. What about the anti-recall effort?
Finances on the anti-recall side of the fence look drastically different.
There are two committees opposing the recall. One is called No On Recalls Of School Board Commissioners Lopez, Collins And Moliga, and the other is No On C! Stop The Recall Of Faauuga Moliga. Both were established in October, 2021.
While the first committee is dedicated to stopping the recall of all three members, the second is purely interested in stopping the recall of Moliga. But neither has raised much of a war chest. According to Ethics Commission data, the first committee has raised $5,000 and the Moliga-only committee has raised $23,000, for a combined total of $28,000.
This means that the pro-recall campaign has raised roughly 46 times as much, so far.
“I’m not raising money, and I’m not campaigning,” said Collins, when asked why the anti-recall committees were lagging in funding. “I am working twenty-four seven to do my job, which is helping students in San Francisco with their education.”
Collins said that the same was true of López. López did not respond to an email asking for comment.
“I am pleased with how our fundraising is going,” wrote Moliga over email. “I still have work to do, but we are right on target, and are implementing a strong voter outreach program.”
David from the Concerned Parents committee sees the lack of funds on the anti-recall side as an indication of their lack of support: “Seeing the lack of resources going to defend them, that speaks for itself,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, the public seem to believe that these members have failed.”
It is worth noting that some campaign activity does not involve money, and will therefore not be captured in these figures. Brandee Marckmann, public school parent and chair of the San Francisco Berniecrats, has been volunteering 10 hours a week to oppose the recall. She and other members of the Berniecrats are set to begin phone-banking and emailing in support of the school board next week.
What is next for the campaigns?
Fundraising will only increase in the run-up to the election on Feb. 15. If money really does speak in elections, then the anti-recall campaign will have a long way to go to make sure its voice is heard.
We aim to follow-up on this piece with analysis in the week before the election, when more funding data will be available.
I supported the recall. I’m a lifelong Democrat, I’m not wealthy. I was simply fed up with those three, especially one off them. Her comments about wealthy people make me cringe.
I suspect her family’s net worth dwarfs mine and many other San Franciscans. Also, given her SO’s background, one would think appropriate building permits would have been acquired for construction that was performed at a property they allegedly attempted to sell for millions.
Thanks for your service, but yesterday’s election validates how the majority feels.
What a landslide!
I didn’t see a single TV ad or got any mailers for the recall.
It turns out the SF School Board is just as unpopular in San Francisco as Donald Trump.
All these recall efforts are funded by libertarian/venture capitalists. It’s undemocratic these people buy their power.
Recalls are the essence of democracy, and they were created in the progressive era in state politics to root out entrenched interests. You might disagree with the recall, but neither the mechanism nor the wealth of some funders is germane to the merit of their position. 81000 San Franciscans signed the Recall petition, so let’s not pretend that Arthur Rock made it happen.
As for Collins, she is in the top 001 per cent, so she hardly speaks for the average parent. She is instead trying to build a political career based on fashionable sentiments, devoid of meaning, and devoid of judgment or work. Twitter is not work. The District approaches fiscal collapse as she and the other idiots tweet prolifically. She is a racist bully to boot. But she has great hair.
There is fierce anger directed at this school board, and we seem to have forgotten that WE VOTED THEM INTO OFFICE. And they’ve done what they said they were going to do -the Lowell changes were in their minds throughout the campaign, but even before that, the legal issues with court supervision and Lowell angst predate this Board by almost 2 decades.
In 2005 a new judge threw out the Consent Decree desegregation agreement, saying in effect: ‘The District hasn’t fixed it as we begged them to do, but this court declines to perpetuate an ineffective system, so it goes back to the experts in SFUSD again.’ What I read into that: the next discrimination lawsuit could bury SFUSD – they were warned, they were given the reins, and I understand they are self-insured, so whatever judgment is rendered is a direct hit on our kids’ resources. Don’t waste time on Ms. Collins’ $87 million suit. It was never going anywhere. Worry about a District that in 15 years did nothing to address this issue even with the federal court breathing down their necks. Gabriela Lopez was on her middle school softball team when this began. This 2021 school board may have been acting in our best interests by “fixing ” Lowell. It was clumsy, uncreative, certainly part of their “anti-supremacist” agenda, but at least they acted. Staff needed to develop a desegregation plan and they did not.
As for the 44 schools – we knew these candidates were all about that when we elected them, and they were hearing reports from a committee, not out there themselves pounding the pavement. They are fully capable of listening to reports, building toward a decision, AND renaming schools. Their reluctance to develop a plan and hire a consultant for reopening left them exposed, and they responded to pressure and schools are open. They should answer to that lack of competence and judgment and loss of funds in an election. No crimes have been committed, and we’re in danger of a serious pandemic surge in the schools – maybe they were right to hold off. And the criticism Gabriela Lopez received for her her interview with Isaac Chotiner? She stole the show – calm, reasoned, with ideas he couldn’t acknowledge. The interviewer was told, ‘Ream her on the factual errors and for not having a historian on the team.’ He did that, over and over, and in 2021 we don’t take any ‘historical fact’ as an absolute, so the entire premise was misguided. She won me over with the ‘no historian’ explanation: This is a different type of process. We are including voices with new perspectives and we’ll true up the whole package later.
Recalls are mean-spirited and destabilizing. Worried about Trump weakening elections? Wait until a new crop of opportunistic consultants show up specializing in recall strategies and guaranteeing results. They’ll go to work the day after an election with a 6-month plan, the 20% signatures secured, armed with an aggressive media blitz, over-hyped negatives, Twitter outbursts, anonymous posts and intrigue — they’ll reel in some big fish, and our elections become a transitory event, ephemeral and vaguely nagging, like, we missed an opportunity. We did and we will. Take back the millions of mail-in ballots (exceptions for the military and those physically unable to get to the polls)`, get rid of the extended voting periods that are a disaster waiting to happen, and MAKE ELECTION DAY A FULL NATIONAL HOLIDAY, shut the country down for VOTING, and we’ll cross paths with the other team, exchange greetings and do our business. Maybe we’ll bond. It’s democracy in action, and if our sides loses, it’s bad, but we survived four years I never would have believed ANY country could survive. I’ll always vote differently than my counterpart, but maybe we’ll agree on a few things and build on that. Because where we are right now is where we were at the millennium, twenty years – almost a generation – with minimal progress, if that. I enjoy a good fight, but this one has grown old. Time for someone courageous and resolute to step up and take charge of this mess.
Everyone knows they were elected before the pandemic with a minority of votes, nobody even paid attention. Covid was an extreme crisis, and their failed leadership ordered on incompetence. Where have you been?
Ultimately, there never would have been a recall if SFBOE did the job that they were elected to do.
The school board lost out of $90m in fed funding because they didnt have a reopening plan. Thats free money lost due to incompetence.
10s of thousands of SF public school parents – and I am one of them – are fueling this recall. These three board members have continually failed our most marginalized students, failed to improve our schools, put their personal agendas ahead of the needs of students, and their unprofessional and racist behavior – Collins in particular – have made them a national embarrassment. They’re divisive and corrosive, and SF deserves so much better. If you’re on the fence about how to vote on this recall – I encourage you to speak to a few parents. Regular San Franciscans of all stripes that feel silenced and pushed to the breaking point by this board.
UH.NO. Nice try tho to make this about everything and anything except HOLDING THE BOE accountable. It’s not about racism, it’s not about the evil white man trying to take down these heroic public servants. PUH-LEEEEZE. Anyone with a brain can see that these 3 BOE peeps DIDN’T DO THEIR JOB. Period. AND Collins used the n-word? AND THROWS A KAREN TANTRUM and SUES for $87 MILLION DOLLARS? How does she even show her face in public? How does anyone call her ‘COMRADE’ and theatrically fist pump for her in the air? Performative activism at it’s best! Come voting day all 3 of these yahoos will be shown the door. $100 bucks says they’ll whine on Facebook and Twitter (two of the tech giants that they rally against yet somehow are constantly on….)
I’m against Trump and Republicans. This has nothing to do with them. This has to do with school board members not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing. I’m progressive and I’m voting for the recall.
We created a system that gives all eligible voters the opportunity to elect candidates to run our government every 4 years to ensure the work is not interrupted by endless campaigning. If there are horrendous mistakes being made we have tools like impeachment and state conservatorship to address them.
The recall is a poorly designed election tool that favors unpopular candidates. So until we can rebuild that tool to operate more democratically, we should allow our primary processes to play out.
If you don’t like Collins or Lopez, fine, don’t vote for them again.
That said, I’ll vote to recall Collins and López mostly because they never even bothered to show up at the many recall debates around the city. While Moliga has made a pretty good case in every forum he has attended. Just for his effort alone, he should continue to serve our City.
And how many times has there been a successful recall in SF? These were. candidates elected before a major crisis with a minority of votes. They did not provide leadership and in fact incompetent. Extraordinary times required extraordinary measures. Almost 80% agreed.
On hold now with C.A.R. to voice my displeasure as a Realtor with my money being spent on this recall!
What a great article! Thanks for the thorough research.
I taught high school social studies in SFUSD: 25 years at Lowell and 5 years at Galileo. My two boys went to Spanish immersion schools and graduated from Lowell and Lincoln. I have donated $75 to oppose the recall; I don’t have the big pockets that billionaire Trump supporters who are supporting the recall have.
Our Mayor, while having opposed the Newsom Recall is supporting the Recall of all the School Board including Faauuga Moliga who she appointed in 2018 saying, “I am proud to appoint my fellow SFUSD alumnus Faauuga Moliga to the Board of Education. Faauuga has spent his entire life in service to our community. His direct, firsthand experience with our public schools, his deep community ties, and his expertise in developing holistic programs that support our youth, particularly those whose lives have been impacted by trauma, give him a unique perspective that I am confident will immediately benefit the Board of Education and our students.”
If these recalls succeed, Breed gets another chance to control the School Board. I believe this is nothing but a power grab for the mayor to be able to appoint a majority to the Board that will be loyal to her.
Rick, this is for you: In 1964 I took U.S. history at Lowell from a Mr. Driscoll. He taught us that the civil war had nothing to do with slavery and was only about states’ rights. Those of us who disagreed were downgraded. That was racist, period. I support the old Lowell, but it was far from perfect.
This is informative reporting. And on other topics, I would perhaps read the headline and have a kneejerk reaction. However, my child started kindergarten at SFUSD in fall of 2020. With two full-time working parents and a two-year sibling at home … I can only say the board failed my family. I will always feel anger about the leadership that year. The City deserves so much better. The actions of these three board members was shameful and I hope they are gone soon.
The reason we have such a terribly incompetent board is so many San Francisco white progressive voters without children vote based upon articles like this and really have no idea what is going on in the school system. The current board has been causing a great deal more harm to kids with fewer resources with their neo-racist ideologies. Hopefully things improve. Probably time to have the board appointed by a panel who know what’s going on and have a stake in the education of the children of San Francisco.
This is all very interesting and informative data. Thank you! But doesn’t explain why Mayor Art Agnos, Former CA Democratic Party chair John Burton, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, Potrero Hill, Noe Valley & other Democratic clubs all support the recall. I don’t think they’ve been bought off or gone soft. It’s that these School Board members have let S.F. families down.
This is the same Allison Collins who decided to sue her own school district for $87 million, and it was immediately tossed by the judge as frivolous, thank heavens. That $87 million should be going to teachers, curriculum, and building maintenance, not to assuage SFUSD board members’ bruised egos and line their pocketbooks in the process.
I was wondering why Matt Gonzalez is supporting the recall. Any ideas?
I can’t speak for Matt, but can as someone opposed to the board (not necessarily the recall): The board voted unanimously to paint over the Victor Arnautoff mural at Washington High School that critically depicts racism in U.S. history. The rationale comports with the racist effort to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. The board members pose as those who support non-white students, but in reality are insisting on teaching a white washed version of history that racial oppression is not a (not “the”) reason for social ills of today. So for those who support that artistic destruction: How is it that the nation’s racists are the opposite of those in SF? Or could it be that this board is simply incompetent and boneheaded? And that this board should go, but not at the hands of a group of reactionaries? Politics is contextual, which is why I oppose the board but not necessarily the recall. I know, it’s complicated.
Perhaps because he’s aware of the facts of the situation, and he believes that competency matters.
Just my guess.
I recommend reading the Voter Information Pamphlet & Sample Ballot, which, if you are a San Francisco voter, should have been mailed to you. There are statements in the pamphlet from Matt Gonzalez and others. The Voter information Pamphlet helped me understand the complicated issues involved in this Recall.
Matt has always been an iconoclast in SF politics, bless him. He is a left-winger, but he supports public-sector pension reform and YIMBY causes. He has written that the Board attempt to destroy art at Lincoln HS is censorship.
Does Brandee Marckmann’s 10 hours of volunteering include the twitter account?
The mailer I received yesterday tells us that VISA, the California Association of Realtors, the Chamber of Commerce and PG and E are funding this too. Of course, all of them have been entirely on the right side of anything that’s ever happened anywhere.
Realtors support this because the YIMBY/HAC build build build crowd wants more luxury highrises in San Francisco and to displace the poor kids of color that the recall people pretend to care about.
PG and E supports it because PG and E wants to blame all the problems they cause on anyone but themselves.
The school board recall has nothing to do with anything except the rich/right hoping to grab power.
Uh, take a few minutes to read about Collins and her history of self-serving bs in the Chronicle… btw, isn’t she married to a rich developer? I contributed $20 to the recall because ‘self-interested+woke+incompetent’ isn’t exactly a winning formula.
Did you know that Alison Collin’s paid job is consulting for her developer-husband who builds luxury, market-rate condominium projects like One Rincon Hill as a partner at Urban Pacific?
Thanks for that. It makes sense.
Let’s remember Alison Collins is prototypical of “the rich” in this town.
But let’s look at a real metric for the school board’s performance – everyday San Franciscans with skin in the game, finding money in their budgets to move them from SFUSD to private school. Or move out of San Francisco altogether. A powerful indictment. And if you wonder who’s the biggest driver of segregation in this town? SFUSD, its board and the superintendent.
Daniel, you hit on a good and relevant point: When Lowell is eliminated as a merit based high school, where do the rich parents of bright students send their kids? To private schools. Where do the normal income parents of bright kids send their kids? To schools that do not meet their needs. What is the result? The SFUSD system becomes more segregated on the basis of income, which also translates to race. The notion that making Lowell open enrollment will benefit poor or non-white kids is backwards. Those who advocate for that haven’t thought this through. I speak as a Lowell graduate and parent of a son who went through the SFUSD system.
Very smart and well put
Even if a student isn’t Lowell material – the mere circumstance that a student attends and graduates at a school that’s part of a system that has a selective or even perceived-as-stratified school like Lowell lifts the perception of the kid’s education. That said, as far as I can tell, the big shift away from SFUSD came last year when the school board didn’t even come up with a return-to-school plan over the summer. As they were required.
Those of us who have children in SFUSD are tired of Board politics. Hence the recall. As the pandemic raged, the Board focused on renaming schools (including Lincoln HS because of “racism”) and on keeping schools closed. Collins, in particular, has tweeted some very disturbing insults against Asian-Americans. We are tired of the Board bickering about small things instead of focusing on making our schools better.
How about elevating standards and offering more AP classes in ALL high schools while supporting those who are disadvantaged too….so all high schools meet the needs of our kids?
Agreed, however, it has been the SFUSD Superintendent and the board that have decided over the years to “dumb down” classes and schools to “lower the bar” so that more kids pass and graduate. This has been seen for AP classes and the GATE programs than dont exist in K-12 anymore across all schools. They also cited equality across all schools regarding AP classes. There are some schools that raise a lot more PTA money and support the school for counselors, staff and classes. There will always be a shift in schools when there is money involved.
Many of us who support the recalls are parents of public school students who have watched the board dither for two years about reopening schools as they focus on renaming schools, destroying murals, and ignoring the student community.
Come to back to Earth and speak with local parents who’ve had enough of these clowns.