'TUSD Kids First' Amasses $35,000 War Chest From Large Donations

If you've been driving around town lately, you've probably seen the signs lining the roadsides and medians: "Change the Board!" and "Change the Board! Rustand, Stegeman, Betts." The Board referred to on the signs is, of course, the TUSD Governing Board. The group paying the bill is TUSD Kids First.

If you're a Facebook user who's interested in local education, most likely you've also seen the TUSD Kids First posts which began showing up in February of this year. Most of them are links to stories which appeared in online publications and blogs, local newspapers and television news. The vast majority of the stories are critical of TUSD. The most recurrent phrase in the comment area above the story is "the dysfunctional 3-2 board."

Until the signs showed up on Tucson's streets, indicating that TUSD Kids First has some serious money behind it, it looked like a small grassroots group highly critical of TUSD Superintendent Sanchez and three board members: Adelita Grijalva, Kristel Foster and Cam Juarez. But a look at the Pima County government's Campaign Finance website shows that it's an independent expenditure committee which filed its papers in early February. In its most recent filing, it reported receiving a total of $35,150 in donations as of Aug. 18 of this year.

Five donors accounted for $31,500 of the funds received. The committee's chair, Jimmy Lovelace, contributed $3,334. Its treasurer, Kathleen Campbell, contributed $8,170. The other major contributors are Jim Click, $7,500, Cody Richie, $7,500, and Tom Regina, $5,000.

The five are either business owners or shareholders in a business. Jim Click is a recognizable local name, someone who contributes generously to Republican candidates and the Republican party. The others are less well known. So far as I can find, none of the others show up as contributors to state or national political campaigns. One of them, however, Jimmy Lovelace, has a connection to TUSD, and a grievance. He was the chair of the district's Audit Committee until he and another member were forced off the committee when a residency requirement was added by the three-member board majority which the group opposes. Lovelace is a shareholder in the accounting firm, BeachFleischman, and many of the other contributions to TUSD Kids First come from shareholders or other employees of the firm, totaling another $1,465.

Independent expenditure committees are political advocacy groups, but they aren't allowed to coordinate with the candidate or campaign committees. I don't know of any coordination, but I found two connections between candidates and contributors, both of which, so far as I know, are perfectly legit. One is Cody Richie, who, along with giving $7,500 to the group, also contributed $1,000 to Brett Rustand's campaign. The other is Robert Harbour, who contributed $500 to TUSD Kids First.  He was the treasurer for Mark Stegeman's campaign in 2012.

As of August 18, the group had spent $6,110, most of which went to designing and maintaining its website—$2,092—and to Facebook—$2,234. That leaves $29,040 in the account. We'll have to wait until the next reporting period to find out how much the group has spent on creating and putting up its signs and how it plans to use whatever funds it has left.

The $35,150 in contributions to TUSD Kids First far exceeds any of the candidates' funds. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, Mark Stegeman's campaign had a total about $15,000, and none of the rest had more than $10,000. By far the loudest, most visible and best financed voice in the TUSD board campaign is an independent expenditure campaign largely financed by five local business people and business associates.