Maurice Cunningham is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts who writes a blog that”follows the money.” He also happens to be one of the heroes in my new book “Slaying Goliath.”

In this post, he warns that philanthropists are using their vast resources to buy control of the news, in this case, the Boston Globe. You may recall that Eli Broad gave the Los Angeles Times $800,000 a year yo increase its education coverage at the same time that he was trying to buy control of the LAUSD school board and ultimately put half the city’s children in charter schools. Fortunately, another billionaire bought the paper who was not interested in the schools, and Broad’s money went down the drain.

In Boston, as Cunningham explains, the Barr Foundation made a $600,000 gift to the Boston Globe. He explains that the Barr Foundation has a long history in the privatization movement.

This is not an innocent, no-strings-attached gift.

Cunningham writes:

The announcement last week of the $600,000 grant from the Barr Foundation to the Boston Globe was presented as a public spirited philanthropy offering the Globe the means to research our education system’s failures and report back on how to fix them.  It is not. It is the dawn of philanthro-interest group journalism.

That’s a mouthful so let me explain. Journalism is easy – the Globe is the most important media outlet in the state. Philanthropy is something that generates positive responses as leading citizens “give back” to the community. What? You’d rather have them buy another yacht? But philanthropies are increasingly acting like interest groups[1] and that is what Barr is doing. It’s expending money to gain influence for its policy preferences on education.[2]

Get over the idea of Barr as a disinterested philanthropy scrupulously pursuing only the public good. It’s an interest group. How so?

Consider the political operating charities Barr has been supporting in the bitter contest between union and civil rights and community groups versus the wealthy interests who wish to privatize public education. Barr’s Form 990 tax returns show it routinely donates to political non-profits that promote privatization.

  • In both 2015 and 2016 Barr gave $200,000 to Stand for Children, a beard for privatization interests. (SFC, then funded by members of Strategic Grant Partners, was behind the 2010 charters ballot measure and the 2012 anti-union ballot proposal, both of which ended in compromise legislation).
  • In 2016 Barr gave $125,000 and in 2017 $175,000 to Educators for Excellence “to support the launch of E4E’s Boston chapter.” E4E is a faux teachers operation, a company union alternative to real teachers’ unions.[3]
  • Barr has contributed to Massachusetts Parents United, the Walton family front that executes privatization activities for the WalMart heirs.[4]
  • Just this year Barr funded the rollout of SchoolFacts Boston, a new operating non-profit headed by former mayoral candidate John Connolly, whose candidacy was backed by $1.3 million in dark dollars from Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. Connolly recently appeared at a DFER event.

We also can’t ignore the history of the money man behind Barr, Amos Hostetter Jr. (By the way, did Hostetter donate to DFER for the 2013 Boston mayor’s race? We’ll never know. DFER is a dark money front).

  • In 2009 Hostetter contributed $32,500 to the Committee for Public Charter Schools, the ballot committee formed by Stand for Children to support a ballot initiative in support of more charter schools.
  • In 2016 Hostetter secretly donated over $2 million to Families for Excellent Schools in favor of Question 2 to increase the number of charter schools. Because Hostetter hid his donations behind that dark money front, his largesse was not known until the Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled that FESA had violated state campaign finance law and ordered it to disclose the true sources of its funding. Hostetter was the fourth largest individual donor to FESA.[5] If not for OCPF, we’d never know.[6]

Keep reading. The Barr Foundation is buying influence. It’s money will be used to point the Globe to ideas favored by Barr and to ignoreodeas that Barr dismisses.

This is a new-dangled kind of corruption.