The state’s political ethics enforcement agency has rejected a complaint filed by state superintendent of public instruction challenger Marshall Tuck against the California Teachers Association for a series of television ads supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson.
Tuck filed the ethics complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission in late May, charging that the CTA had misleadingly characterized the ads as “issue advocacy” rather than a campaign expenditure. The spots applaud Torlakson’s work as state schools chief and encourage viewers to “tell Tom Torlakson to keep fighting” for local control of school funding decisions and career training,
FPPC regulations specify that any political spending to influence voters for or against a particular candidate qualifies as an expenditure, but among the exceptions is spending “urging the public to adopt a particular position and to contact the candidate with respect to the matter or issue.”
“After review of your complaint and the evidence obtained, we found no violation of the Political Reform Act,” Gary Winuk, FPPC’s chief enforcement officer, wrote in a letter to Tuck. “Although the television commercials occurred fairly close to the election, the commercials did not expressly advocate the election of a candidate at the June Primary.”
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Tuck spokeswoman Cynara Lilly disagreed with the ruling.
“Regardless of what the FPPC ruling says on a technicality, it’s clear that the television commercials violated the spirit of the law,” she said. “It’s still part of a broader effort that CTA is doing to buy the election and influence the election for their chosen candidates.”
In an email, CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman said the decision was not a surprise.
“The ads were clearly advocating on issues important to students and public schools, and the complaint was clearly a campaign gimmick by Tuck,” she wrote. “We hope he will stop wasting taxpayer money by filing such baseless complaints in his fall campaign.”
Tuck and Torlakson have been locked in a costly and ideologically charged race for state superintendent. During the primary cycle, it attracted more outside spending than any other race in the state – more than $4 million from CTA and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield, among others.