Surprised, suspicious and skeptical.

Those three words best describe how we, here at The New Orleans Tribune, felt when we learned that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently made a $200,000 donation to the PAC for Justice, an organization that has weighed in on the Orleans Sheriff’s race in an effort to unseat Sheriff Marlin Gusman. 

According to it’s website, the PAC for Justice is a Louisiana State PAC founded in 2020 to elect reformers into the justice system in New Orleans while building an aligned base of organizers and activists. They want Marlin Gusman out and that is their prerogative. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Like other PACs, it is free to use money to influence political races within the framework of what is legal. Still, we also know that these PACs have changed the America’s election landscape . . . and not necessarily for the better. They collect unlimited contributions from individuals, businesses and even other PACs. And as some critics have noted, this has resulted in the sidelining of the average citizen while billionaires and corporations essentially buy elections.

What we want to know is why is Mark Zuckerberg contributed $200,000 to this local PAC? What interest does this Silicon Valley social media mogul have in a local sheriff’s race? There is an ulterior motive. There always is. And we want to know what Zuckerberg and others expect to get out of the deal if the PAC for Justice is successful in unseating Gusman.

There is a reason this causes us so much consternation. We have seen this before. We watched what happened with local school board and state BESE board races when big money from places like New York and California was funneled to candidates that advocated for the failed reform model that has destroyed public education in New Orleans.

When we consider Zuckerberg’s contribution to this local PAC, we immediately think of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and his deleterious impact on public education here and across the country.

Bloomberg has spent millions in state and local school board races in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Louisiana, and New Jersey. Most of this funding has gone to candidates who support the expansion of charter schools. And his contributions and those of others like him have effectively muted any candidate whose platform pushed back against the runaway charter school movement by ensuring that pro-charter candidates outspend their opponent exponentially in school board elections, which, once upon a time, were once among the most hyper-local, grassroots level elections held in any community. That has all changed now that the fake reformers have turned our schools into multi-billion dollar businesses with plenty of lucrative contracts to dole out.

And as result, the students of Orleans Parish Schools have suffered. For over a decade and half, the data have shown that the vast majority of these charter school operations are, at best, mediocre “C”schools and, at worst, failing “D” and “F” schools. Additionally, our schools are more stratified by race and socio-econimic status than ever before, with the student population at the handful high-performing campuses whiter, richer and not reflective of the city’s demographics. We have to wonder what could have happened to our schools if candidates throughout the years who fought against this failed reform movement were not outspent by those who were backed by Bloomberg’s big money. Maybe, by now, we would have a school board that was actually interested in operating schools instead of one that is complacent and happy to go along with this fake reform effort that has been all about a money and power grab. Maybe we would have a BESE board and a state legislature that would finally and actually return OUR schools to local control.

So yes, when we learn that Mark Zuckerberg is adding his $200,000 to influence the race to determine who runs our jail, we want to know WHY? The bottom line is we just don’t need this kind of outside influence on our local politics. And when we see it we are skeptical. We have reason to be.

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