With less than two months left before California's June primary election -- where voters will decide which two candidates for governor advance to the November ballot -- supporters of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are pouring millions of dollars into an independent expenditure campaign in an attempt to get the Democrat one of the two top spots.
Two wealthy charter school supporters -- Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Los Angeles philanthropist and developer Eli Broad -- made hefty donations to a campaign account sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates. Hastings put in $7 million Wednesday, while Broad threw in another $1.5 million on Thursday.
The donations to the Families & Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor 2018 committee come as several polls show Villaraigosa slipping to third, behind Republican businessman John Cox. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has retained a steady lead in those surveys.
Villaraigosa is also a Democrat, but clashed with some public employee unions as mayor, particularly the teachers union, a fight that continued after he left office in 2013. He has been a strong supporter of charter schools.
In a written statement, Gary Borden, executive director of California Charter Schools Association Advocates, didn't mention any of Villaraigosa's competitors.
"Antonio Villaraigosa will be a governor for all Californians, keeping the American dream possible in California with good schools, safe neighborhoods, affordable healthcare, and opportunities for everyone to succeed,” Borden said.
But last month, the association's president took a swipe at Newsom as he announced the group's endorsement of Villaraigosa. In a speech, Jed Wallace said the former San Francisco mayor would "inflict major harm on our schools and claim to be our friend."
Newsom already won the endorsement of the powerful and well-funded union that represents most public school educators in the state, the California Teachers Association. They are often among the biggest political contributors in the state.
The campaign account that Hastings and Broad gave to this week is an independent expenditure committee, meaning it is barred from coordinating with Villaraigosa's campaign.
In a statement, campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino said, "Mayor Villaraigosa's focus is how we unite Californians to lift more families into the middle class -- and keep them there. This campaign isn't going to be distracted from that mission by outside efforts for us, or against us."
But Newsom's campaign spokesman, Nathan Click, had harsh words for Villaraigosa.
"Antonio’s campaign has been circling the drain for months," said Click in a written statement. "No amount of money can hide how Antonio sold out his constituents to the highest bidder — from making millions by shilling for Herbalife as they preyed on Latino and low-income Californians to his advocacy on behalf of his payday lender and bail bondsmen donors."
The major candidates for governor will face off on May 8 in San Jose at a debate with KQED and other media organizations.