Eric Smidt must be L.A.'s least-written-about, super-rich, self-made guy pouring money into Democratic races in the U.S. Now he's given $50,000 to the Coalition for School Reform to elect Kate Anderson and Antonio Sanchez to the powerful LAUSD Board of Education, and to re-elect incumbent Monica Garcia.
That's Smidt, not Schmidt. In 2012, Smidt gave $114,300 to Dems from Montana to Washington D.C. He's a major art collector -- now -- but he and his dad started a mail-order tool biz in North Hollywood when it wasn't "NoHo" and didn't have a trendy theater in sight. Smidt embodies the yawning split in the Democratic Party -- those who defend the California Teachers Association and United Teachers Los Angeles versus the growing number, like Smidt, who battle these unions and demand better schools:
According to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, which produces a regular report on campaign giving locally, the Coalition for School Reform raised a king's ransom of $370,000 in just 10 days in February, including the fifty large from Smidt.
If we can reach Eric Smidt today we'll add his comments.
In 2005 Smidt bought The Knoll, former manse of Marvin Davis, which is right next to Greystone, for some $46-$50 million. He's so rich that, when we asked his aide today about the $50,000 donation, the aide momentarily misunderstood and said, "Okay, so you are trying to contact him because you want $50,000?"
Well, since you asked.
But Smidt is not a snob and wasn't born to money. He's a self-made working man and actual product of LAUSD (Van Nuys' Grant High School) back when L.A. public schools were not nearly the disaster they so often are today.
Smidt's firm Harbor Freight is headquartered in Calabasas. Yeah, L.A. folks really do launch companies in L.A.! But then they move outside the L.A. city limits. Why?
Because Los Angeles City Hall, led by dozens of confused people with zero grasp of the private sector, drives out companies that are not:
A) Rich developers who give loads of campaign contributions to mayoral races and City Council races and Proposition A taxes that disproportionately hit the poor.
B) Rich billboard firms who give loads of campaign contributions to mayoral and City Council races, and Proposition A taxes that disproportionately hit the poor.
C) Companies in Santa Monica (Gensler, CODA) who move their jobs a few miles to inside L.A. city limits because our highly confused City Hall politicians (Jan Perry for Gensler, Eric Garcetti for CODA) somehow think this is "job creation" and hanker to reward these firms with fat public subsidies.
But let's think about something more pleasant, like school reform.
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Here's Wikipedia (much of it apparently taken from Harbor Freight's website) on Eric Smidt, who is clearly interested in LAUSD:
Smidt has been a long-time supporter of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, University of Southern California and UCLA. In 2012, he funded a new public high school in Los Angeles known as "Smidt Tech" for Alliance College-Ready Public Schools (an independent non-profit charter school manager).]
Also in 2013, Smidt directed Harbor Freight Tools to donate $1.4 million in tools and equipment to the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) Career Technical Education program after learning that its annual budget was cut to one quarter of what it was two years earlier. He observed that "for far too long vocational education has not been given the attention and funding it deserves," and added that, "at a time when a well trained workforce is essential to compete in the global economy, the United States too often falls short."
One fascinating side note: Smidt's dad sued Harbor Freight during the economic downturn, after CEO/son Eric and other overseers pushed out much of the company's long-time management.
Apparently, Harbor Freight has done well coming out of the recession. Moody's reported in 2011 that the company had revenues of $2 billion.