Disclosure: Juan Matute, Jason Mastbaum and Jason Islas have all written for Santa Monica Next and serve both officially and unofficially as advisors.
Last year, the Brighter Future PAC experienced setbacks in its first attempt to change the makeup of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Three of the four candidates endorsed by the PAC were unsuccessful in their attempts to unseat incumbent school board members (the fourth candidate was also endorsed by backers of the two incumbent candidates and Alicia Mignano after another incumbent dropped out of the race). The State Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is investigating two donations and one loan made to the organization as well as late and irregular campaign filings made by the PAC.
In October, Juan Matute wrote at Santa Monica Next about some of the irregularities in the PAC’s reporting. Matute demonstrated that the PAC was not filing all of the campaign finance documents listing both donors and expenses with the Cities of Santa Monica and Malibu that it is required to (although it had been filing forms with the county). Matute used the research in the article to file a complaint with the FPPC.
Another Santa Monica Next contributor, Jason Mastbaum, filed a separate complaint regarding potentially illegal coordination. Esther Hickman loaned the PAC $9,999, exactly one dollar under the $10,000 requirement to file a form 461 (Major Donor/Independent Expenditure Report), in September of 2021, and the PAC did not report the loan until February 2022. Hickman was one of four candidates endorsed by the Brighter Future PAC. Under state law regarding PAC’s, it is illegal for candidates and PAC’s to coordinate activities.
The FPPC combined these two complaints into one and according to the FPPC’s website, the investigation is still ongoing. The FPPC has literally hundreds of related complaints across the state listed as “still open” that were filed before the election was completed.
Last month, Jason Islas filed another complaint against two major donors to A Better Future PAC. This complaint alleges that one entity (SGI Retail LLC, a Los Angeles based company who owns a series of medical marijuana dealerships) and one person (Ara Gulessarian, a dentist in Burbank) made donations to the PAC in excess of $10,000 but did not disclose these donations to the appropriate entities.
“Transparency is vital to the health of our local democracy. I hope that this complaint will help shine some light on the money attempting to influence who gets elected to our school board,” said Islas, who is a SMMUSD alum and Santa Monica resident.
“Perhaps shining this light will also help the people of Santa Monica better understand why a Burbank dentist and an L.A.-based corporation are interested enough in the outcome of our school board elections to spend this much money in support of these candidates,” he said.
As with the complaint involving Hickman, A Brighter Future PAC did disclose the donations in their filings with L.A. County, but neither donor filed paperwork with election officials nor has A Brighter Future PAC filed form 461.
As with the pre-election complaints, the FPPC still lists Islas’ complaint as “under investigation.”
Santa Monica Next has reached out to Kat Blandino, chair of the Brighter Future PAC according to its website, on social media for comment. Previous attempts to contact the accounting firm for Brighter Future PAC have not been returned. This story will be updated if we hear from anyone affiliated with a Brighter Future PAC.
A previous version of the article mentioned “three incumbent candidates” but while Alicia Mignano was on a slate with incumbents, she was elected to office the first time this year.