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No on Orange Unified Recall Committee Raking in Cash From Questionable Donors

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February 8, 2024

By Brian Hews • [email protected]

Editor’s note: Click on images to view in full screen.

On March 5, voters will decide whether to recall two Orange Unified School District board members, Board President Rick Ledesma and Trustee Madison Miner, and the cash is rolling in for both sides of the recall.

The campaign in favor of the recall, Citizens for the Recall of Ledesma, Ortega, Miner, and Rumsey, is far outpacing the committee against the recall with nearly $220,000 in donations as of January 25, 2024, collected from over 500 donors, a large majority small amount donors.

A little over 10% (52) of the donations were over $1,000, with the Orange Unified Education Association donating $15,000.

See donations.

The campaign committee against the recall, “No Recall, Parents Protecting Our Kids Against the Recall of OUSD Boardmembers,” (No Recall) has collected nearly $155,000 through January 2024, with just over 103 donors.

See donations.

In contrast to the donors in favor of the recall, many donors to No Recall include wealthy high-powered Orange County business owners, donations from an obscure political action committee, donations from an exclusive club known for its uber-conservative stance, and many campaign consulting companies known for their high-profile clients.

The June 30, 2023 report showed the No Recall committee collected over $18,000; the largest included $2,200 from Temescal Canyon LLC, $1,000 from Dmitriy Chebotarev, CEO of Newport Beach-based Vosht Capital, and $6,000 from attorney Shawn Steel.

The September 30, 2023 report showed the No Recall committee collecting just over $38,000, with $15,500 of that total coming from Service First Inc. with the “other” contribution checkbox checked. Los Cerritos Community News could not find any information on Service First Inc.

By December 31, 2023, No Recall had collected $65,000 in donations, the largest was $5,000 from Mesa Management, who checked the other contribution box, $5,000 from attorney Fred Whitaker, and $2,500 from Villa Park resident Denise Bittel.

The Lincoln Club?
2024 saw a marked increase in donations to No Recall, the committee collecting $38,100 in just twenty days.

An eye-opening $30,500, 78 percent, was donated by the Lincoln Club of Orange County State PAC. The average age of a Lincoln Club member is 60 years old, but here was the Club donating big money to a local school district recall.

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Their website states, “The Lincoln Club of Orange County is the oldest and largest conservative major donor organization in California.”

But that was only the beginning of the high-powered money spigot.

To ensure transparency in all elections, when donations to any committee exceed $1,000, the committee must file a Form 497 with the Fair Political Practices Commission within 48 hours of receiving the contribution.

Records show that on January 23, 2024, three days after the first January reporting period, the Lincoln Club donated $10,000 to No Recall; the Club’s donations now totaled $40,500.

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But then an obscure political action committee started giving to the No Recall committee titled The Family Action PAC Committee, ID# 1225424.

Started in 2021, The Family PAC garnered thousands of dollars in donations, eventually giving $7,400 to current OUSD Board Member Madison Miner in October 2022.

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In December 2023, California Secretary of State records show the PAC took in $9,100 each from five wealthy donors for a total of $45,500.

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The donors included Larry Smith of MHI Real Estate in Newport Beach; Kim C. Bengard, a “Homemaker” from San Clemente; Thomas Bengard, a “Self-Employed Investor” from San Clemente; and John D. Lewis and Nancy Lewis of J. Derek Lewis & Associates in Newport Beach.

In prior years Family PAC reports, an inordinate amount of donors list their business in Newport Beach which is miles for Orange Unified boundaries.

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A few weeks later, on January 25, The Family PAC turned around and donated $15,500 to the No Recall committee, above.

In addition, just yesterday, on February 6, the Family PAC took in another $45,000 from three current Orange County Board of Education Board Members: 1st District Trustee Jorge Valdes, 2nd District Trustee Mari Barke, and 4th District Trustee Tim ​Shaw donated $15,000 each from their respective campaign committees.

Get ready OUSD residents, time to make room in your mailboxes.

  • Linda J. Hernández says:

    Isn’t Shawn Steel, mentioned above, MAGA Rep Michelle Steel’s husband? This remind’s me of LA Times article on ultra-conservatives efforts to take over local school boards. That seems to be the case here.

  • JJ Meis says:

    Your digging doesn’t need to go much deeper to find some really questionable connections here and much of them center around Mark Bucher. Mark Bucher is the head of the California Policy Center in Tustin and was at the center of the last OUSD recall in 2000-2001.

    He is the owner of Service First Construction and Property Management that you mention, but also heads the Family Action PAC that you mention.

    Mark Bucher, personally and through family members is also a large contributor directly to the Lincoln Club.

    He also happens to be in the original petitioner for, and on the board of OCCA, a controversial county charter school in the middle of OUSD’s footprint.

    I suggest a series for you after looking at the OUSD majority members last several elections 460’s and 497’s as well as Bucher, service First, Family Action PAC, Lincoln Club and even some of THEIR contributors like the misleadingly named California Voter Participation Project. One of THEIR largest contributors happens to own a large parcel right across the street from OUSD’s largest capital asset.

    You’ve only scratched the surface.

  • Linda J. Hernández says:

    I also notice that the Orange United Educators Assn. is against the Recall and these are the teachers and staff members working daily with the students. Their recommendation for the recall means a lot!

  • Linda J. Hernández says:

    I meant the Orange County Educators Assn is for the recall. Can you give us some more background on how this movement started?