Arnett receives $7,000 from Washington, D.C., lobby group, most of Torrisi’s financial support is local

Published on Morgan Hill Life’s website on May 18, 2016


By Marty Cheek and Robert Airoldi

Pamela Torrisi

Pamela Torrisi

Tom Arnett

Tom Arnett

The candidates for the school board special election filed their campaign disclosure statements earlier this month, showing who is financially supporting Tom Arnett and Pamela Torrisi in their run to fill an interim trustee seat on the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

Arnett’s campaign Fair Political Practices Commission statements showed he had received $10,981.58 in contributions and spent at least $3,676.34. Torrisi’s campaign FPPC statement showed she had received $3,025 in contributions and spent at least $2,254.52.

On his statement, Arnett did not post a $1,950 expense he paid with a cashiers check to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters to put his candidate statement on the sample ballot. Torrisi listed this candidate statement expense on her statement.

“So as I understand it with the campaign financials, that is something you can pay out of personal expenses so I paid it as a personal expense,” Arnett said, explaining why the expense was not listed.

The largest contribution to Arnett’s campaign was $7,000 from Leadership for Educational Equity, a political lobby group based in Washington, D.C., which serves as the 501(c)4 nonprofit group for Teach For America, an organization with a 501(c)3 nonprofit status which prevents it from getting involved directly in political activity. Arnett worked as a non-credentialed educator with Teach For America in Kansas for two years. Arnett’s disclosure statement showed his campaign paid LEE $1,000 in consulting fees.

“They are an organization that helps former Teach For America teachers who are interested in running for different elected offices,” he said. “They help them know how to organize a campaign. They’re basically consultants who let me know how to set up a website, how to put together communication materials and stuff like that.”

The statement submitted by Torrisi’s campaign showed she received donor support from local residents ranging from $100 to $300. The former president of the Morgan Hill Service Employees International Union said she did not receive any financial donations from the South Bay Labor Council, which endorsed her, or the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers union. MHFT President Gemma Abels, a Live Oak High School teacher, gave Torrisi’s campaign a contribution of $300. On various weekends, teachers through the MHFT have been precinct walking in support of her campaign, Torrisi said.

“I have enough support from individual members of the community who are supporting my campaign financially. It would be nice (to get union donations) but we haven’t needed it,” the candidate said. “This is a community grassroots campaign from public schools and Charter School of Morgan Hill who are supporting my campaign. All our money is local money.”

{Editor’s clarification note: Torrisi informed Morgan Hill Life in an email on May 22 that she misspoke in the above quote and Charter School of Morgan Hill as a school did not support her campaign but rather certain past and present members of CSMH’s board of trustees do. These include current Board President Brian Sullivan and past board presidents Roger Knopf and Dana Ditmore. Morgan Hill Life makes every effort to correct significant errors. A correction notice will be placed in our June 8 issue.}

Arnett received in-kind support for campaign photos from self-employed photographer Michelle Deakin, valued at $175, and campaign signs purchased by attorney Armando Benavides, valued at $402.15.

Benavides is the spokesperson for the activist group Parents for Positive Change, which last year ran an unsuccessful recall campaign against MHUSD Board President Bob Benevento because he and three other board members voted to reconfigure district campuses to put sixth graders in middle schools.

“To give you the full story, that was an issue that we debated,” Arnett said of Benavides’ contribution. “I was not planning on doing signs, and he thought they would be important. So he went out and got them for me.”

South Bay Labor Council Political Director David Urhausen said the union group’s only support of Torrisi’s campaign is to put her name on a “slate mailer” that will be sent to voters at the end of the month. It will not provide any monetary support for her campaign.

“It’s going to be a competitive race,” he said. “The special election is a little bit different from other ones because it happens to be on the primary ballot and it’s going to actually have a good turnout.”