Andrea Gabor writes here about the dark money campaign to persuade voters in Massachusetts to lift the cap on charter schools last November. The dark money came pouring in, but suffered a crushing defeat when voters weighed in. Andrea worked closely with Peggy Wiesenberg, a Massachusetts attorney and parent of three public-school graduates. Peggy wrote to tell me that KIPP is planning to open two new charters in Lynn, Massachusetts, despite the fact that the people of Lynn don’t want more charter schools. Governor Baker, a Republican, has added two new charter supporters to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; one is a board member of KIPP, the other is a Harvard scholar funded by the Walton Family Foundation:

KIPP plans to expand in Massachusetts by adding two schools in Lynn per a pending request to increase enrollment by 1,014 seats (up from 1,586 in Lynn). The Mass. Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will take up that request in Feb 2018.
See”Charter Amendment Requests Pending BESE Action (Grades, or Maximum Enrollment, or Change to Charter Region)”

One of the two new BESE members appointed by Gov Baker is on the Board of Trustees of KIPP MA; the other Martin West whose scholarly work has been funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

But, back to the new post by Andrea Gabor:

The New York-based Families for Excellent Schools added about a third of the $45 million spent to push charter schools. Pro-public education advocates spent nearly $16 million.

“Voters defeated Question 2 by a stunning 62-to-38 margin–an endorsement of Massachusetts public schools, which are rated number one in the nation. But not for lack of efforts by organizations like FESA, which allowed a slew of wealthy contributors to hide their identities and their sizeable contributions in support of the referendum. In some cases individuals contributed twice: Once through a ballot committee that was required, by law, to publish names of contributors, and a second substantially greater contribution, in some cases millions more, via FESA.

“At the top of the list of FESA’s secret donors were public officials in the Massachusetts government. Governor Charlie Baker was a leading proponent of Question 2 and backed efforts to impose charter schools in towns, like Brockton, where there was widespread local opposition.

“Normally, nonprofits organized under IRS Code 501(3), such as Families for Excellent Schools (FES), don’t have to reveal the names of donors so long as they are not engaging in political activity. And ordinarily, their affiliated social-welfare nonprofits, organized under IRS Code 501(c)(4), such as FESA, can have some political involvement in electoral politics and keep donors secret, so long as this is not their primary activity. However, if the organization is a vehicle for receiving contributions for a ballot campaign, then the voting public is entitled to know the names of each contributor and the amount donated before the election.”

FES was fined more than $400,000, the largest fine ever imposed by the state for a campaign finance violation.

Here are some of the big donors:

“The campaign-finance disposition agreement has revealed other backers of Question 2 who used FESA contributions to hide the full value of their donations in support of the charter-school referendum including:

“Paul Sagan, Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who contributed $496,000 on August 4 and 5 in addition to his previously disclosed contribution of $100,000 on August 10, 2016.

“Seth Klarman, Investment Manager of the Baupost Group LLC, contributed $3 million within six months of the election in addition to his previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015.

“Jonathan Jacobson, Managing Director Highfields Capital Management LP, contributed $2 million in August and October. That’s in addition to the previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015 by his wife Joanna, Managing Partner of Strategic Grant Partners, another dark money vehicle, according to Professor Maurice Cunningham of UMass Boston…

“Josh Bekenstein, a Bain Capital investor, and his wife Anita, a private philanthropist, each contributed $750,000 in August and $500,000 on October 2016 for a combined total of $1.5 million, in addition to Josh’s previously disclosed contribution of $40,000 in September 2015.

“Chuck L. Longfield, Founder of Target Analytics and Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, funneled $650,000 to FESA under the name “Chuck Longfield,” in addition to a previously disclosed contribution of $100,000 under the name “Charles Longfield” on August 2016 and $1,000 in November 2015. [The OCPF filings have a discrepancy in the house number associated with Longfield’s contributions—in all likelihood a typographical error.] Longfield went on WBUR radio on October 31, 2016 to explain why he gave $100,000 in support of raising the cap on charter schools, never mentioning the exponentially larger contribution that he made through FESA to lift the cap.

“Martin Mannion, Managing Director of Summit Partners, contributed $100,000 to FESA between August and October 2016 in addition to a disclosed campaign contribution of $30,000 in October 2016.

“Alice Walton contributed $750,000 to FESA on November 2016 in addition to her previously disclosed contribution of $710,000 to Yes On 2, another campaign committee, in July.

“The Boston Globe reports that in addition to paying the fine, and revealing its donors, the group also “agreed with the IRS to dissolve itself, and Families for Excellent Schools, its umbrella group, agreed not to fund-raise or engage in any election-related activity in Massachusetts for four years.”

Gabor says that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman may look into the “Families for Excellent Schools,” a political group of millionaires and billionaires with no purpose other than to destroy and privatize public schools.