Dramatically upping the ante in the race for state schools chief, David W. Packard, the wealthy son of the Hewlett-Packard co-founder, donated $500,000 to Santa Ana teacher Gloria Matta Tuchman’s campaign Thursday.
One of the largest donations ever by an individual to a statewide campaign, it is expected to boost Tuchman’s efforts to unseat state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin, who is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 3 election.
Packard said the donation stems from his strong interest in promoting phonics-based reading instruction. It immediately vaults the 59-year-old political neophyte from Los Altos into the rarefied, but growing, club of high-powered political contributors.
Jerry Perenchio, the majority shareholder of the Spanish-language network Univision, gave $1.5 million this year to the campaign against Proposition 227, the anti-bilingual education initiative, in possibly one of the largest individual donations to date.
But Packard’s gift may be the biggest contribution ever by an individual to a candidate, said Kim Alexander, president of the non-profit California Voter Foundation.
“There’s an important distinction between contributing to a ballot measure and an individual,” Alexander said, “The courts have ruled that contributions to individuals can be limited because they can be a corrupting influence (on the candidate).”
The Packard donation more than doubles the amount of money Tuchman has raised to date, allowing her to buy television and radio time and try to improve her relatively low name-recognition.
Tuchman will use the money to mount an aggressive last-minute, statewide media campaign, possibly starting as early as today, said her campaign manager Jon Fleischman.
“Needless to say, we are very pleased somebody as well-regarded as David Packard would endorse us,” said Fleischman. “Clearly this will allow us to get our message out as an equal to Eastin.”
Eastin was indignant at the contribution.
“California’s public schools are not for sale to the highest bidder,” Eastin said in a statement. “And I believe the voters of California agree with me — neither is the top schools job.”
To this point, Eastin has been the clear front-runner in fundraising. According to campaign-finance reports for the period ending Sept. 30, Eastin has raised $1.4 million compared with Tuchman’s $430,000.
Eastin’s largest contributor has been the California Teachers Association, which donated $100,000. Other large donations include $60,000 from Ameriquest Capitol Corp., $25,000 from the California Federation of Teachers and $27,500 from the California School Employees Association.
By contrast, more than half of Tuchman’s funding until Thursday had come from two wealthy voucher proponents: Home Savings and Loan heir Howard Ahmanson, who gave $200,000, and Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who gave $35,000.
This is Packard’s second-ever political donation, he said. The first, to San Jose Congressman Tom Campbell a few years ago, was for $1,000.
Packard’s wife, Pamela, said the couple has paid little attention to statewide politics over the years and only recently became aware that Eastin’s post was up for grabs.
But the couple has had a long-time interest in education issues, most recently through the Packard Reading Initiative, which supports the use of a phonics-based reading program in public schools.
“I’ve spent more than half of my time to help improve reading instruction in public schools,” said Packard, a scholar, philanthropist and one-time businessman.
Through that experience, according to Pamela Packard, the couple became informed about the ideological debates between Eastin, a Democrat, and the conservative state Board of Education over math and reading instruction. In most instances, the couple disagreed with Eastin’s viewpoints, she said.
David Packard, who is not registered in a political party, decided to endorse Tuchman after meeting her at a dinner a couple of days ago. Packard stressed that the Tuchman donation was personal and in no way connected to any of the family’s non-profit organizations.
“Our state Board of Education is now on the right track and has developed excellent standards in reading, math, science and history,” Packard wrote in a news release. “The incumbent Superintendent, Delaine Eastin, is a career politician who takes credit glibly for achievements she actually obstructed. .?.?. I believe Gloria Matta Tuchman can do a much better job.”