Marshall Tuck, one of two challengers in this year's race for state superintendent of public instruction, has filed an ethics complaint against the California Teachers Association for a series of television ads supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson.
The complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's political ethics enforcement agency, alleges that CTA misleadingly characterized the ads as "issue advocacy" rather a campaign expenditure, which involves more financial disclosure, in violation of the "transparency required by the letter and spirit of the Political Reform Act."
The trio of ads applaud Torlakson for his work as state schools chief and encourage the viewer to "tell Tom Torlakson to keep fighting" for either local control of school funding decisions or career training. (One ad is in Spanish.)
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."
"Unlike true issue advocacy, no specific legislation which is currently pending before the State Legislature or the State Office of Education is mentioned," Tuck's complaint reads. The ads are "unmistakably, unambiguously suggestive of only one meaning -- to urge viewers to re-elect Torlakson"
CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman called the complaint "frivolous." She said CTA decided at its state council meeting in March to support several ongoing legislative efforts and that the $1.95 million ad buy, which aired for three weeks in late April and early May, was unrelated to June's primary election.
"This is a political stunt by the Tuck campaign," Zoglman said. "If this was actually a concern, why didn't they file the complaint back in April?"
Spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed that the FPPC had received the complaint and is reviewing whether to pursue an investigation.
Within 60 days of an election, the commission can consider not just the text of the advertisement, but also its tenor and timing, to determine whether the ad "unambiguously urges a particular result" in a race.
Tuck and Torlakson are locked in a heated battle for state superintendent that has attracted big money from labor unions and the private sector. In early May, an independent expenditure supported primarily by CTA spent more than $2 million on radio ads supporting Torlakson and opposing Tuck, while Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield has poured more than $700,000 into slate mailers and campaign literature in favor of Tuck.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Marshall Tuck