Archives for category: Connecticut


We know a few things about the Sackler family. Their family fortune is vast, about $14 billion. Their fortune was derived primarily from the sale of highly addictive opioids. More than 200,000 people have died due to opioid addiction. The Sackler nameis emblazoned on museums, libraries, and universities. Curiously, Jonathan Sackler has been a major finder of charter schools in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other states. He has been a major founder of the no-excuses chain called Achievement First.

This is the first article I have seen that tries to track the Sackler ties to the charter industry.  

“An examination of 990 donor tax forms draws a wider picture of how Sackler largely came to underwrite many pro-charter entities over several years.

“Sackler made donations to charter schools and charter groups dating back to at least 2003, including a $50,000 unrestricted gift specifically to New Haven charter school Amistad Academy, which received $365,000 from the foundation in 2004 and $20,000 in 2005. The foundation also donated to the Arizona-based Alliance for School Choice in 2004 and 2008, and donated $250,000 to pro-charter organization ConnCAN in 2004 before its official launch, for which he is listed as an interlocking directorate.

“According to forms filed by the Bouncer Foundation, which is Sackler’s foundation, Impact for Education, a New Haven-based “philanthropic advisory practice,” received nearly $100,000 from the foundation for offering “philanthropic advice” in 2013.

“The year “2013 was the heyday for charters and charter expansion,” said Wendy Lecker, a senior attorney at the Education Law Center and a contributing columnist to Hearst Connecticut Media.

“Two years prior, New Haven-based Amistad Academy charter school co-founder Stefan Pryor was named commissioner of the state Department of Education. Also, around that time, then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy publicly stood with charter school advocates, Lecker said.

“(Sackler’s) fingerprints are all over the charter movement, particularly in our neck of the woods, and that’s another stain on the charter movement,” Lecker said. “The most vulnerable are in their schools, and for the charter industry to take this money when they’re claiming to help these kids is pretty questionable.”

“The foundation’s yearly reimbursement for Impact for Education’s annual philanthropic advice increased to $130,454 in 2014 and, after a payment of $90,000 in 2015, was reported to be $470,000 in 2016 and $262,500 in 2017, the most recent year available on searchable public databases.

“Impact for Education engages forward-thinking philanthropists to catalyze systemic change in public education,” the practice says on its website.

“Impact for Education’s president and founder, Alex Johnston, also co-founded the pro-charter advocacy group Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or ConnCAN, with Sackler in 2005. Johnston served as executive director, while Sackler sat as chairman of the board.

“According to his biography on Impact for Education’s website, Johnston also is a board member of FaithACTS for Education in Bridgeport, a registered nonprofit coalition of religious education advocates that received $700,000 from the Bouncer Foundation between 2015 and 2017. The group’s founder, the Rev. William McCullough, told the Connecticut Post that the group believes in school choice.

“Neither Johnston, a former member of the New Haven Board of Education, nor Impact for Education returned a request for comment.

“In 2009, the Bouncer Foundation had begun making gifts to Yale University that would ultimately culminate in a $3 million endowment for the Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professorship, but other donations effectively ceased until 2011, when the foundation gave $100,000 to Students for Education Reform and $5,000 to the conservative Alliance for School Choice. After an austere 2012, the foundation donated to eight groups affiliated with charter schools, including ConnCAN and its subsequently founded national counterpart 50CAN, Students for Education Reform, New Haven’s Booker T. Washington Academy, the Northeast Charter Schools Network. In 2013, Achievement First, the charter network co-founded by Dacia Toll, and which operates Amistad Academy, was named a recipient of a donation….

“In 2013, Achievement First, which runs 35 other schools in three states, received $151,571 from the Bouncer Foundation. The contribution was increased to $250,000 in 2014 and 2015 and was more than doubled in 2016, when the network received $600,000 from the foundation. By 2017, the foundation’s gift to Achievement First was $350,000.

“For 2013, 990 forms show Achievement First reported $29,253,402 in contributions and $40,396,539 in revenue, so contributions were about 72.4 percent of revenue. In the most recent year for which data is available, Achievement First reported for 2017 about $22 million in contributions and grants, of $46 million in revenue.

“For the entirety of the Bouncer Foundation donations, Sackler sat on Achievement First’s Board of Directors.”

Wendy Lecker gave a good explanation of the appeal of charter schools to the Uber-rich like Sackler.

“The Education Law Center’s Lecker said wealthy donors receive tax incentives for donating to charter schools, so a number of wealthy charter donors are seeking financial advantages. However, she believes there’s also a basis in undermining public services.

“The whole privatizing of public education is an effort of the uber-wealthy to tamp down the expectations of what people should want in the public sphere,” she said. “A smaller public sphere in terms of public education and local democracy means people have less of an expectation of what they can get from the public.”

“Lecker said she believes a number of philanthropists believe they are doing a good thing, but the fact that some, like Sackler, “are so aggressively involved, and have been since the beginning, means they have to know what goes on in charter schools and what impact they have on funding for public schools.”

“Advocates for district schools such as Joyner and Lecker see charter schools as a movement to undermine teacher unions and hand governmental control of education to charter management companies and moneyed interests.”



Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturers of killer drug OxyContin, is considering bankruptcy to cancel the 1,600 lawsuits against it.

More than 200,000 people have died because of opioid addiction.

Governor Raimondo of Rhode Island is not returning contributions from Jonathan Sackler, although other elected officials have done so.

The Sackler family is worth about $14 billion based on the success of their addictive drug. Jonathan Sackler is a major donor to charter schools. He founded ConnCAN and is a board member of 50CAN and other charter-promoting organizations.

I have often wondered whether their grand mansions are haunted by the ghosts of those killed by OxyContin.


A report on Monday by Reuters said that embattled OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma is considering bankruptcy to shield itself from more than 1,600 lawsuits, including by the State of Rhode Island and by multiple Rhode Island cities and towns.

“The potential move shows how Purdue and its wealthy owners, the Sackler family, are under pressure to respond to mounting litigation accusing the company of misleading doctors and patients about risks associated with prolonged use of its prescription opioids,” reported Reuters.

The Sacklers rank as the 19th richest family in the United States according to Business Insider.

Jonathan Sackler, who has been a board member of Purdue Pharma, and his wife Mary Corson, are significant donors to Governor Gina Raimondo. Raimondo, who has said in the past she supports the Rhode Island lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, has refused to donate or return the donations from the Sacklers.

In contrast, Lt Governor Dan McKee donated campaign donations from Sackler and Corson to Rhode Island agencies that treat substance abuse.



Those of us in the field of education know the billionaire Sackler family as major funders of charter schools. Jonathan Sackler funded ConnCAN, then 50CAN, and sits on the boards of other charter promotion corporations.

But in the wider world, the Sacklers are infamous for their ownership of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures and markets OxyContin, the drug believed to be responsible for the opioid addiction crisis and more than 200,000 deaths.

If Trump wanted to stop the flow of deadly drugs, he would build a wall around every Purdue factory, not the southern border.

ProPublica obtained and released a trove of documents that demonstrates that family members knew that their drug was twice as powerful as morphine, yet understated the risks.

“In May 1997, the year after Purdue Pharma launched OxyContin, its head of sales and marketing sought input on a key decision from Dr. Richard Sackler, a member of the billionaire family that founded and controls the company. Michael Friedman told Sackler that he didn’t want to correct the false impression among doctors that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, because the myth was boosting prescriptions — and sales.

“It would be extremely dangerous at this early stage in the life of the product,” Friedman wrote to Sackler, “to make physicians think the drug is stronger or equal to morphine….We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”

“I agree with you,” Sackler responded. “Is there a general agreement, or are there some holdouts?”

“Ten years later, Purdue pleaded guilty in federal court to understating the risk of addiction to OxyContin, including failing to alert doctors that it was a stronger painkiller than morphine, and agreed to pay $600 million in fines and penalties. But Sackler’s support of the decision to conceal OxyContin’s strength from doctors — in email exchanges both with Friedman and another company executive — was not made public.

“The email threads were divulged in a sealed court document that ProPublica has obtained: an Aug. 28, 2015, deposition of Richard Sackler. Taken as part of a lawsuit by the state of Kentucky against Purdue, the deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned under oath about the illegal marketing of OxyContin and what family members knew about it. Purdue has fought a three-year legal battle to keep the deposition and hundreds of other documents secret, in a case brought by STAT, a Boston-based health and medicine news organization; the matter is currently before the Kentucky Supreme Court….

”Much of the questioning of Sackler in the 337-page deposition focused on Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin, especially in the first five years after the drug’s 1996 launch. Aggressive marketing of OxyContin is blamed by some analysts for fostering a national crisis that has resulted in 200,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids since 1999.

“Taken together with a Massachusetts complaint made public last month against Purdue and eight Sacklers, including Richard, the deposition underscores the family’s pivotal role in developing the business strategy for OxyContin and directing the hiring of an expanded sales force to implement a plan to sell the drug at ever-higher doses. Documents show that Richard Sackler was especially involved in the company’s efforts to market the drug, and that he pushed staff to pursue OxyContin’s deregulation in Germany. The son of a Purdue co-founder, he began working at Purdue in 1971 and has been at various times the company’s president and co-chairman of its board…

”The Kentucky deposition’s contents will likely fuel the growing protests against the Sacklers, including pressure to strip the family’s name from cultural and educational institutions to which it has donated. The family has been active in philanthropy for decades, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars. But the source of its wealth received little attention until recent years, in part due to a lack of public information about what the family knew about Purdue’s improper marketing of OxyContin and false claims about the drug’s addictive nature.”

The Sackler family has a net worth of some $14 billion.

Madeline Sackler, film-maker, produced a documentary lauding Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy called “The Lottery.”

Ann Cronin, retired teacher, says that Connecticut should get rid of charters. They were an interesting but unsuccessful experiment that failed to achieve their goals.

The people of Connecticut should put their money into public schools, not charters, she says, for the following reasons:


  1. Charter schools take public money (our tax dollars) but have no public oversight. Public schools have public oversight through state regulations and local school board policies and controls.
  2. Charter schools provide an education that is separate and unequal because the students are overwhelmingly students of color.
  3. The quality of education is inferior to public schools because the emphasis is on test prep rather than critical thinking.
  4. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by standardized test scores, is falsely reported because students who do not test well are counseled out of the schools.
  5. The “success” of charter schools, as measured by graduation rates and college acceptance data, is falsely reported because the attrition of students who do not have the credits to graduate or be accepted to college is not included in the reported data.
  6. The “no excuses” discipline practices which make for high suspension and expulsion rates in charter schools seem commensurate with racial prejudice.



Over 200,000 people have died due to opioid addiction. The lead manufacturer of OxyContin is Purdue Pharmaceuticals in Connecticut. The company salespeople assured doctors and nurses that opioids were safe and effective.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maureen Healey is suing the company and members of its board of directors for the damage done by their drug.  The mai owners of Purdue are the Sackler Family, whose net worth exceeds $14 billion.

AG Healey wants to hold them accountable.

One of the main “charities” of Jonathan Sackler is charter schools. He has financed them in Connecticut through his organization called CONNCan. He has also financed 50CAN, which aims to spread charters nationally. He serves on the boards of other charter groups.

Read AG Healey’s devastating account of the family’s and directors’ actions.

The Sacklers produced and marketed a drug that destroyed many lives. Now they use their fortune to endow museums and destroy public schools.



Wendy Lecker, veteran civil rights lawyer, reviews the recent report by Common Cause-Connecticut about the intrusion of Charter money and lobbyists into the state.

Former Governor Dannel Malloy depended on charter money and gave them a state commissioner and seats on the state school board,as well as generous funding.

After repeated losses in other states, like Massachusetts, the charter lobby now is doubling down in Connecticut.

After their spectacular public losses, the charter lobby is getting craftier. A recent report by Common Cause and the Connecticut Citizens Action Group reveal some of their newer tactics, but with many of the same backers.

The report, “Who is Buying Our Education System? Charter School Super PACs in Connecticut” continues the work previously done by blogger Jonathan Pelto tracking the influence of charter money. It details the donations and spending of charter Super PACs in Connecticut’s recent elections.
Super PACs enable individuals and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, as long as they do not coordinate this spending with candidates.

The report found that since 2016, six Super PACS spent more than half a million dollars in Connecticut elections. These Super PACS are founded and/or dominated by charter lobbyists and employees of charter organizations, such as the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the now-defunct Families for Excellent Schools, ConnCAN, Achievement First charter chain and DFER. Soon-to-be former Gov. Dan Malloy recently joined DFER’s board.

The majority of the money donated came from outside Connecticut and from a limited number of large donors, the largest being Walmart’s Alice Walton.

Perhaps because of their very public defeats by grassroots organizing in other states, the charter lobby became more stealth-like. The report notes that these Super PACS conceal their aims by adopting innocuous sounding names, such as Build CT, Leaders for a Stronger CT, and Change Course CT. They spent money primarily on advertising and canvassing.

One PAC, Build CT, focused on candidates in safe or unopposed races, including: Stamford’s Pat “Billie” Miller and Caroline Simmons, and Senate Majority leader, Norwalk’s Bob Duff. The authors suggest this strategy is designed to curry favor with those who will definitely be in power. Last session, Duff unsuccessfully pushed a charter-friendly school funding scheme where local districts would have to pay for charter schools over which they have no say.

The charter lobby always uses deceptive, “caring” names to hide its true purposes:

1. Privatize public schools
2. Destroy the teaching profession
3. Eliminate unions.

Connecticut Voters: Beware!

Achievement First Amistad in New Haven is known for two things: high test scores and high suspension rates.

Principal of New Haven charter school quits after video surfaces

But when a video captured the principal
exercising the usual harsh discipline, the principal stepped down and a former “behavior specialist” spilled the beans.

“The State Department of Education has reprimanded the leadership of AF Amistad in the past for what the state says amounts to three times more suspensions as any other New Haven public school. Now, a video obtained by the New Haven Independent, shows AF Amistad principal Morgan Barth grabbing a male student, who tried to leave his office, while discussing previous discipline.

“The school’s Chief External Officer, Fatimah Barker, calls the principal’s conduct “unacceptable,” in a statement. It continued:

“When this incident happened, we conducted an internal investigation, documented the incident in accordance with state laws, and worked with the student’s family – including sharing the video with them. In addition, Mr. Barth was disciplined and also required to attain additional restraint training.”

“From the time I met that man, very intimidating to the kids,” said Steve Cotton, a now former AF Amistad employee. “Multiple staff always referred to his style as intimidation, basically.”

Wake up, Connecticut! A small number of wealthy donors are attacking public schools, including Alice Walton, the richest woman in the world. She does not live in Connecticut. A major in-state donor is Jonathan Sackler, whose billionaire fortune was made by marketing opioids. A small number of wealthy donors are attacking public schools. Read and share with your friends, your school board, your teachers, and parents.

Common Cause in Connecticut has posted an important statement about the money fueling the attack on public schools in that state.

A small group of corporate executives, wealthy individuals, and advocacy groups for the charter school industry have collaborated to reshape Connecticut’s educational system by pumping more than a half million dollars into our elections in the last three years. The common thread among this group is their advocacy for charter schools — publicly funded schools that are run by private boards, independent of the local school district. Most of these donors have been involved in the management of charter schools or charter school advocacy groups as board or staff members. Thus, the charter school industry is spending large sums of money to influence public policy to make more money for itself, shift control of public education to private hands, and drive wedges between parents in communities of color and teacher unions.

The political action committees (PACs) that have funneled this money to support local candidates are not funded by small contribution s from concerned parents and educators who want to improve local educational opportunities. Rather, most of the small number of wealthy individual donors to these PACs have management ties to charter school advocacy groups or to the charter schools themselves. We are calling these political action committees charter school PACs.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, corporations, unions, lobbying organizations, and wealthy individuals can spend unlimited amounts money influencing elections, as long as this spending is not done in coordination with candidates. The Court also made clear that this unlimited money should be fully disclosed to the public, to provide “citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” In Connecticut this year, super PACs are the primary channel for these “independent expenditures” and though the super PACs disclose their donors, some donors to charter school PACs are advocacy corporations that do not disclose their funders (i.e., dark money groups). Super PACs cannot contribute directly to candidates.

Through Connect the Dollars, our collaborative project to track independent expenditures in the state, Common Cause in Connecticut and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group have been tracking super PAC income and spending in Connecticut this year. Using campaign finance reports filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) through November 15, this analysis highlights income and spending by super PACs focused on charter schools in 2018. Since the intimate connections between the donors, advocacy groups and charter schools becomes even more apparent when reviewing super PACs over a longer period, we have also researched donors to all charter school super PACs from 2016 through the present.
The wealthy donors who provide most of the income for charter school super PACs in Connecticut are funding an electoral megaphone that drowns out the voices of Connecticut parents, citizens, and candidates who are concerned about the future of our schools. This special interest money also undermines the goals of Connecticut’s strong campaign finance laws, and damages public confidence in the integrity of our election system.

The shifting and vague names of these super PACs mask a thinly veiled shell game played by a small group of advocacy groups, wealthy donors, and charter school board members. Our report finds that since 2016:

• Six charter school super PACs in the state have received $512,958 in donations, with most of it (58%) coming from out-of-state sources.

• Just 26 donors have contributed virtually all of the half million dollars that have gone to these super PACs. A mere 10 donors account for 91% of these donations.

• The largest contributor by far is Alice Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, who has donated $195,000 to local super PACs.

• Two-thirds of the individual donors have had a direct role in the management of charter school advocacy groups and/or the charter schools themselves, as current or former board members or staff of these organizations. In other words, wealthy individuals who privately manage the charter school industry are donating thousands of dollars to super PACs in an effort to gain favor with state legislative candidates and influence spending on education – privatizing public education with the ultimate goal of profiting from that change of focus.

• While charter school PACs and their donors have supported both Democratic and Republican candidates since 2016, they focused primarily on supporting Democratic candidates in 2018. One of them, Build CT, focused on currying favor among candidates in races that were not highly competitive, including districts of members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus and the Senate majority leader, a Democrat.

• While not a charter school PAC, the Change Connecticut PAC has ties to the charter school industry. It may have been used to evade Connecticut’s campaign finance disclosure rules by indirectly funneling $250,000 from Brian Olson, a wealthy leader in the charter school industry to support Republican candidates in the state.

Several donors and officers of these PACs have clear ties to these local advocacy organizations and schools:

• Families for Excellent Schools (FES) was, until its closure this year, a 501(c)(3) charter school advocacy organization that focused on Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. It spent $74,000 on lobbying expenses in Connecticut during the 2017-2018 legislative session, according to Office of State Ethics filings. Its 501(c)(4) “social welfare” arm, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, had a much larger lobbying budget, spending $367,000 in this period. FES Advocacy spent nearly $20 million trying to pass a 2016 referendum initiative to expand charter schools in Massachusetts, which lost by a margin of 24 percentage points, a major setback for FES. The group violated Massachusetts election law by failing to disclose its donors and was fined $426,000, the largest campaign finance fine in state history. FES announced in February 2018 that it would close after it fired its executive director following an investigation of “inappropriate behavior toward a non-employee.”

• Achievement First is a network of 36 charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island. Several PAC donors are board members of Achievement First or its individual Connecticut schools.

• The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) is a charter school advocacy group that spent $370,000 on lobbying expenses in Connecticut during the 2017-2018 legislative session. Three of the five founding board members of ConnCAN were also board members of Achievement First at that time.

• The Northeast Charter Schools Network is an advocacy organization that represents the charter school industry in Connecticut and New York. It spent $97,000 on lobbying expenses in the state during the 2017-2018 session.
2018 Super PACs

There are three charter school PACs in Connecticut that have reported income and spending in 2018 and that have supported or opposed candidates this year — Build CT, Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and Change Course CT. Super PACs are notorious for hiding their real agendas behind vague and innocuous names, and most charter school PACs are no exception. Few voters would have any idea that the Build CT and Change Course CT PACs are funded by the wealthiest woman in the world in her effort to rework the school system to shift control of public education to private boards.

Build CT PAC

The Build CT PAC, created in 2017, was formed and operated by staff from charter school advocacy organizations.

• The chair and treasurer of the Build CT PAC is Claudia Phillips, a Community Engagement Manager with the Northeast Charter Schools Network and a former organizer at Families for Excellent Schools.

• Samaris Rose, who was a paid canvasser this year for Build CT, was also an organizer at Families for Excellent Schools.

• Antonio Felipe, the PAC’s previous treasurer, is a former Connecticut Advocacy Intern for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The PAC’s income totaled $118,250 in 2018. Its major donor was Alice Walton, who contributed $100,000. She is the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton and is ranked by Forbes as the wealthiest woman in the world, with assets of $46 billion.
Alice sits on the board of the Walton Family Foundation, which is the largest donor in the country to state charter school advocacy groups, contributing $144 million to 27 organizations, according to the Associated Press. In 2016, it announced a plan to spend $1 billion over the next five years to expand charter school and school choice programs.
Walton has financially supported pro-charter and school choice candidates and organizations across the country, contributing more than $17 million. Among her donations was $750,000 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy in support of a pro- charter ballot measure. The Walton Family Foundation gave Families for Excellent Schools more than $13 million between 2014 and 2016.

Other 2018 donors to the Build CT PAC were:

• Richard Ferguson of Westport, retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox
Radio, chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory charter school,

• Michael D. Griffin of Indian River Shores, FL and New Preston, CT, a “community
activist” and treasurer of the board of the Amistad Academy charter school
board, $4,500.

• Kenneth Bartels of Greenwich, retired, $4,000.

• Anthony Roncalli of New Canaan, attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright, $1,000.

• Christopher Kunhardt of Weston, retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan, chair of
the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter school, $1,000.

In 2018, our analysis indicates that the PAC spent $97,826, with much of that going to direct mail, Facebook ads, canvassing (door knocking), and consulting fees from RSA Strategies in New York. (This includes paid and unpaid expenses.)
However, the Build CT PAC did not target competitive elections. Nearly all of the Democratic candidates it supported won by overwhelming margins in safe districts where there was little chance they would lose, and three were unopposed in the general election. All but two of the districts are classified by the Secretary of the State as “party- dominant districts” — those in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least 20 percentage points. Rather than favoring candidates in tight races, the PAC’s spending appears to be aimed at currying favor among urban, Black and Latino legislators who have direct oversight of funding and policy for charter schools.

• Of the 12 incumbents supported by Build CT PAC, eight are members of the General Assembly’s Education and/or Appropriations Committees. An open seat candidate, Dennis Bradley, is a member of the Bridgeport Board of Education. Senator Bob Duff is the Senate Majority Leader.

• All of the candidates represent urban districts, which have been a major focus for charter school expansion by the industry.

• All but two are African-American or Latino candidates, and these communities have been a focus of organizing by charter school advocates, raising questions about why communities of color are being targeted by charter school PACs.

The PAC supported these Democratic state senate candidates with its spending, all of whom won their elections. The candidates’ share of the vote is also listed below (in general election, unless otherwise noted).

• Dennis Bradley (D-Bridgeport), 55% in primary (PAC supported only during primary election)

• Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), 63%

• Doug McCrory (D-Hartford), unopposed

• Gary Winfield (D-New Haven), 76%

It supported these candidates for state representative, who also won their elections with an overwhelming share of the vote:

• Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven), 88%

• Julio Concepcion (D-Hartford), 79%

• Brandon McGee (D-Hartford), 74% in primary (PAC supported only during
primary election)

• Patricia Billie Miller (D-Stamford), 83%

• Geraldo Reyes (D-Waterbury), 91%

• Robert Sanchez (D-New Britain), 98%

• Caroline Simmons (D-Stamford), unopposed

• Chris Soto (D-New London), unopposed

• Toni Walker (D-New Haven), 94%

In 2017, the PAC supported the Democratic mayors of Stamford and Norwalk, and Doug McCrory in his state senate special election. They also supported Liam Sweeney, a Democratic Town Councilor in West Hartford and a former staff lobbyist for ConnCAN.

Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC

While Build CT focuses its support on Democratic candidates, Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, created in 2017, supports Republicans. Despite the distinction, they are two sides of the same coin. Connections between the two PACs and Families for Excellent Schools are obvious:

• Jasedia “Jessy” Toro, the chair and treasurer of the Leaders PAC, is a former organizer with Families for Excellent Schools and a board member of the Bridge Academy charter school in Bridgeport.

• Claudia Phillips, chair and treasurer of the Build CT PAC and former FES organizer, was paid by the Leaders PAC for her field coordination services. Two paid canvassers for the Leaders PAC share the same address as Claudia Phillips.

• Both the Build CT and Leaders PACs used RSA Strategies LLC as a consultant for strategy, mailers, printing door hangers, administrative assistance, and phone banks.

The PAC’s $25,251 in 2018 income came from:

• John Irwin of Greenwich, Managing Director at Hillside Capital and Brookside
International, $5,150. Irwin is a Board member of ConnCAN.

• Brian Olson of Greenwich, Investor at Kokino LLC, $4,900. Olson is a board
member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter
school financing, design, and construction.

• Jill Olson of Greenwich, wife of Brian Olson, $4,900.

• Kenneth Bartels of Greenwich, retired, $4,000.

• Richard Ferguson of Westport, retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox
Radio, $3,800. Ferguson is chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory
charter school.

• Christopher Kunhardt of Weston, retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan $1,000.
He is chair of the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter

• Peter Orthwein of Greenwich, Executive Chairman of Thor Industries, Inc., a
recreational vehicle manufacturer, $1,000.

• William Heins of New Canaan, retired, $500. Heins is a former board member of ConnCAN.

In 2018, the PAC spent $25,415, with much of it spent on consultants, direct mail, canvassing (door knocking), and printing. The PAC targeted its support solely on Pam Staneski, a Republican candidate for state senate from Milford who currently serves as a state representative on the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. The PAC supported Staneski during her Republican primary race, which she won with 65% of the vote. The spending in her district could have had a significant impact, since she received only $39,410 in Citizens Election Program funding prior to the primary. Staneski lost in the general election to James Maroney, a Democratic candidate supported by another charter school Super PAC. (See the profile of Change Course CT PAC below.)

In 2017, the Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC supported Republican candidates for the Groton Town Council and Bridgeport Board of Education.

Change Course CT IE PAC

Established in 2016, the Change Course CT PAC has close ties to Democrats for Education Reform, a PAC formed by hedge fund executives that advocates for charter schools and supports Democratic candidates. Its 501(c)(3) nonprofit arm, Education Reform Now, has a board of directors that is composed of finance industry executives. The PAC announced in August 2018 that it planned to spend $4 million on targeted state elections across the country. Governor Dan Malloy recently joined DFER’s national advisory board and spoke at a conference organized by Education Reform Now.

Colin Dowell of Westport, the PAC chair, filed registration papers with an email address at Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). He shares the same street address as Amy Dowell, DFER’s Connecticut State Director. Amy is also treasurer of Democrats For Education Reform CT PAC, a “traditional” PAC that has directed most of its modest spending to support state Democratic party PACs. In 2016, Amy served as a board member of Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA), a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization associated with DFER. ERNA contributed $65,250 to the Change Course CT PAC in 2016.
Change CT IE PAC’s sole donor in 2018 was billionaire Alice Walton, who donated $75,000. (See background on Walton in the profile above of the Build CT PAC.)

The PAC, which was formed in 2016, spent $54,203 this year, with the largest share going to:

• Facebook advertising, $18,3469 (34%)

• Consulting through Hilltop Public Solutions in D.C., $17,000 (31%)

• Polling, $14,781 (27%)

In addition to supporting Ned Lamont for Governor, it targeted its support to these Democratic state senate candidates, all of whom won their elections, and only one of whom (Steve Cassano) was an incumbent:

• Mary Daugherty Abrams (D, Meriden)

• Steve Cassano (D, Manchester)

• Christine Cohen (D, Guilford)

• William Haskell (D, New Canaan)

• James Maroney (D, Milford)

Change Connecticut PAC

The Change Connecticut PAC was funded almost entirely by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a national PAC that supports Republican candidates. Change Connecticut could be considered a party-affiliated PAC — a partisan PAC that targets its funds to candidates of one party. While we are not classifying it as a charter school PAC like the others, it does have direct and indirect ties to the charter school industry, and may have been used to funnel money from a wealthy leader in that industry for local campaign use. The chair of the PAC is William Phillips, the former board chair of the Northeast Charter Schools Network and a donor to three charter school PACs. Brian Olson, who has donated to multiple charter school super PACs, also donated $250,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) in the 2018 election cycle. This was the largest donation from any Connecticut resident between January 2017 and September 2018. The RSLC, in turn, gave $1.2 million to Change Connecticut, a super PAC that supported GOP state legislative candidates in the state. Olson is a board member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter school financing, design, and construction.

While Connecticut state law requires Connecticut super PACs to disclose their donors, wealthy donors can effectively avoid disclosure of how their donations were ultimately used by funneling their contributions through other organizations that then fund Connecticut super PACs. These difficult-to-trace funds are called “gray money.” So while the RSLC must disclose its donors, including Brian Olson, it is not possible to know if Olson’s contribution was earmarked in advance, in coordination with Phillips, for use in local races. In this way, charter industry advocates like Olson and Phillips might support their favored Republican candidates, while leaving responsibility for support of Democratic candidates to the super PACs that were overtly focused on charter schools. The Change Connecticut PAC spent more than $100,000 opposing James Maroney, the Democratic candidate who opposed Pam Staneski in her state senate race. Staneski, as described earlier in this report, was supported by the Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, which received $9,800 from Olson and his wife.

Super PACs from 2016 through 2018

Three additional charter school super PACs were formed in 2016 and terminated in 2017. As we outline below, they share many donors with similar PACs, as well as connections to advocacy groups.

• Charters Care PAC. This PAC reported $86,615 in income. All of the officers of the PAC were staff with the Northeast Charter School Network. Jeremiah Grace, chair of the PAC, was the Connecticut State Director of the Network. The PAC’s treasurer, Christopher Harrington, was the Network’s Policy Manager, and the Deputy treasurer, Jose Alfar, was their Advocacy Manager. The PAC supported both Democratic and Republican state legislative candidates.

• Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC. The PAC received $87,100 in income from Real Reform Now Network, a charter school advocacy group, and a small number of individual advocates. It supported Democratic and Republican candidates for the General Assembly in 2016, as well as some municipal candidates in 2017.

• Equal Education for All PAC. Formed in 2017, this PAC also has charter school ties. The chair of the PAC for most of 2018 was Kadisha Coates, a former member of the Bridgeport Board of Education who is a charter school advocate. The PAC raised and spent little in 2018. It reported $1,510 in income this year, including $100 in small donations and $1,410 from Richard Ferguson, who is profiled earlier in this report. It spent $1,471, with most of that going to expenses incurred in 2017. It did not spend money for or against any 2018 candidates, so it is not included in our 2018 analysis. In 2017, it supported several Democratic candidates for City Council and both Democratic and Republican candidates for Board of Education in Bridgeport. The PAC has received $32,522 in donations since 2016.

In addition, the total donations since 2016 to the charter school PACs that were active in 2018 were $140,250 to Change Course CT, $126,950 to Build CT, and $39,521 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut.

Charter School Super PAC Donors, 2016-18

The following is a list of major donors to Connecticut charter school super PACs reported on filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission from 2016 through November 15 2018. Of the 26 total disclosed donors, most of them (15) have contributed to more than one of these super PACs. Most are individual donors, but two of the organizational donors are “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose their donors. Most of the funding (58%) for these super PACs came from out-of-state donors.

Of the 22 individual donors, two-thirds (15) are current or former governing board members or staff of charter school advocacy organizations that operate in Connecticut and/or Connecticut charter schools. Specifically:

• Nine are current or former board members or staff of Achievement First or one of its 10 Connecticut charter schools.

• Seven are current or former board members or staff of ConnCAN or the Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The 22 major donors to charter school super PACs who have given at least $1,000 since 2016 are:

• Alice Walton, $195,000. Heir to Walmart fortune. See her profile in Build CT PAC section above. Donated $100,000 to Build CT, $75,000 to Change Course CT and $20,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Real Reform Now Network, $70,000. A dark money 501(c)(4) organization. Its officers in 2016 were Kyle Rosenkranz, currently Director of Strategic Initiatives for KIPP NJ, a charter school in New Jersey and former CEO of the Northeast Charter Schools network; William Phillips (see profile below); and Jeremiah Grace, chair of the Charters Care PAC and former Connecticut State Director of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Donated $45,000 to the Charters Care PAC and $25,000 to the Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Education Reform Now Advocacy, $65,250. A 501(c)(4) dark money group associated with Democrats for Education Reform. Donated to Change Course CT PAC.

• Jim Walton, $25,000. Son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, brother of Alice, and part of the wealthiest family in the country. Chairman and CEO, Arvest Bank Group. Ranked by Forbes as the 11th wealthiest person in the U.S. with assets of $45 billion (as of 11/25/18). Donated to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Anthony Davis, $24,750. CEO of Inherent Group, an investment firm. Board member of Achievement First. Donated $20,000 to Equal Education for All PAC and $4,750 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC.

• Jonathan Sackler, $21,500. Heir to the Purdue Pharmaceuticals fortune. Managing Partner at Kokino LLC. Founding chairman of ConnCAN. Board member and founder of 50CAN, a national charter school advocacy organization. Former board member of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Former board member at the NewSchools Venture Fund, which funds charter schools. Former board member of Achievement First, and of Students for Education Reform, a charter school advocacy group. Sackler is a major donor to charter school advocacy organizations. For example, he contributed $70,000 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy during their Massachusetts referendum campaign. Donated $18,000 to Charters Care PAC and $3,500 to Build CT PAC.

• Richard Ferguson, $19,960. Retired, former Executive Vice President of Cox Radio, chair of the board of the Elm City College Preparatory charter school. Donated to five of six charter school PACs: $5,910 to Equal Education for All, $4,800 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $4,750 to Build CT, $3,000 for Charters Care, and $1,500 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Brian Olson, $17,400. Investor at Kokino LLC. Olson is a board member of ConnCAN and of Civic Builders, a nonprofit that supports charter school financing, design, and construction. Donated $10,000 to Charters Care, $4,900 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and $2,500 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• John Irwin, $14,650. Managing Director at Hillside Capital and Brookside International. Board member of ConnCAN. Donated $7,650 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC and $7,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Kenneth Bartels, $13,500. Retired. Donated $7,500 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC, $4,000 to Build CT PAC, and $2,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Andrew Boas, $9,000. General Partner, Carl Marks Management, LLC, an investment firm. Board member of ConnCAN. Board chair of Achievement First (charter school network). Former board chair of Achievement First Bridgeport Academy and former board chair of Amistad Academy charter school. Donated $4,500 to Charters Care, $3,500 to Build CT, and $1,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Michael Griffin, $7,500. “Community activist” and treasurer of the board of the Amistad Academy charter school. Donated $4,500 to Build CT PAC and $3,000 to Equal Education for All PAC.

• Joyce Critelli, $5,000. Retired. Former member of advisory board (though not the governing board) of ConnCAN. Donated to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future PAC.

• Jill Olson, $4,900. Wife of Brian Olson (see above). Donated to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut PAC.

• Andrew Balson, $4,500. Managing Partner, Cove Hill Partners, a private equity investment firm. Former executive at Bain Capital. Balson, who lives in Massachusetts, donated $300,000 in 2016 to Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy during their campaign to pass a pro-charter school referendum initiative in that state. As described earlier in this report, FES Advocacy was fined for violating the law and failing to disclose its donors. Balson also contributed $200,000 to Strong Economy for Growth, another organization that supported the referendum campaign and was also fined for failing to disclose its donors. Finally, Balson was a major donor to the Connecticut’s Bright Future PAC, contributing $25,000 this year to the Connecticut super PAC that supported Republican Gubernatorial candidate David Stemerman. Donated to Charters Care PAC.

• William “Bill” Phillips, $3,900. President, Future Generations Advocacy Project. Former board chair of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. Phillips is the chair of the Change Connecticut PAC, one of the largest super PACs in the state. It received $1.2 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee in 2018 to support Republican candidates for the General Assembly. Donated $2,400 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $1,000 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future, and $500 to Charters Care.

• Prepare Our Future Workforce, $3,000. This donor was listed with an address at a Hartford apartment building, but does not appear to be registered as a business, lobbyist, or nonprofit in the state. Donated to Build CT PAC.

• Christopher Kunhardt, $2,500. Retired, former executive at J.P. Morgan. Chair of the board of the Achievement First Bridgeport Academy charter school. Donated $1,000 to Build CT, $1,000 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, and $500 to Equal Education for All.

• Carolyn Greenspan, $1,500. CEO of Blue State Coffee. Board chair of the Amistad Academy charter school and former board member of Elm City College Preparatory charter school. Donated to Build CT PAC.

• Peter Orthwein, $1,200. Executive Chairman of Thor Industries, Inc., a recreational vehicle manufacturer. Donated $1,000 to Leaders for a Stronger Connecticut, $100 to Build CT, and $100 to Campaign for Connecticut’s Future.

• Alex Johnston, $1,000. President and founder of Impact for Education, a philanthropic advisory organization. Co-founder and former CEO of ConnCAN. Board member of FaithACTS for Education. Board member and former chair of the Policy Innovators in Education Network, a network of education advocacy organizations that includes many charter school groups. Donated to Charters Care PAC.

• Anthony Roncalli, $1,000. Attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright. Donated to Build CT PAC.
The PACs collectively received only $948 in donations of $500 or less, including $133 in small donations below the level required for public disclosure of the donors. Three disclosed donors under $1,000 were also current or former board or staff of charter schools or advocacy organizations. In addition to these monetary donations, these super PACs received additional support from these sources since 2016:

• William Phillips, a $2,656 loan to Build CT.

• CT Forward, $550 in in-kind support to Equal Education for All.

• Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, a $9,887 in-kind contribution to Equal Education for All.


This report shows how monied interests, specifically the charter school industry, games our electoral system in a way that undermines peoples’ votes and hides the duplicitous manner in which they operate.

In Connecticut in 2018 this included:

• Setting up so called independent PACs for each of the major parties and even spending to support candidates opposing one another in one State Senate district.

• Utilizing a strategy to spend in races that were not competitive in an attempt to curry favor with the winners, a cynical ploy. Many of the so-called beneficiaries would have preferred money be spent improving their local public school systems.

• Masking their strategy by establishing multiple committees, using misleading names, and participating in hiding their activities through a legislative party super PAC.

Since candidates are not permitted to coordinate with independent expenditure efforts, candidates did not affirmatively agree to this spending. What candidate would affirmatively want mountains of money spent on their behalf by Alice Walton, the nation’s largest spender on efforts to destroy public education and whose fortunes are based on a business model that undermines small businesses and keeps people in poverty?

The question is whether the shady practices of the charter school industry – spending large sums of money to influence public policy to make more money for itself, shift control of public education to private hands, and drive wedges between parents in communities of color and teacher unions – will help them advance their agenda, or is sunlight really the best disinfectant? This behavior is at odds with our democracy.


Data on income, donors, and spending by Connecticut super PACs are from PAC filings with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) from January 2016 through November 15, 2018. PAC expenses include those that are paid, as well as those incurred but unpaid as of the last filing. Paid expenses figures were generated using SEEC’s disbursement search tool. Outstanding incurred but unpaid expenses were from the PACs’ final reports. Donations were summarized from SEEC’s receipts search tool. Many additional sources are in hyperlinks above.

About Us

Common Cause in Connecticut is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens’ lobby working for open, honest, and accountable government for everyone. Our activism helped secure and continues to protect the strongest campaign finance law in the nation, the Citizens’ Election Program, while also working to protect voting rights and advance racial and economic justice. We have over one million members and activists nationwide.

The Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) is a statewide membership based organization dedicated to actively engaging the residents of Connecticut in altering the relations of power in order to build a more just society.
For our previous reports on super PAC spending, see our website at Visit our Facebook page at

Michael Sullivan contributed research and writing assistance for this report.

Peter Greene asks us to imagine a country that cared about the loss of innocent lives.


Has it been six years? It seems forever, and yet it seems yesterday.

There will be many retro pieces today, looking at the events at Sandy Hook, the children, the families, the killer, the damaged whack jobs who have denied its existence, and of course many reflections about the turning point where we chose as a culture not to turn.

I’ll leave all of that to others. I just want to imagine.

Imagine a country where people rose up and said decades ago, “Guns are nice and important and all, but nothing is more valuable than the lives of innocents. We’re going to have reasonable gun controls in this country before another young life is lost.” Don’t imagine it happening after Sandy Hook. Imagine it years earlier, after the death of just one or two children by gunfire. In this world, Sandy Hook is just one more small school most people never heard of.

Imagine that when people marched against abortion, they simultaneously marched against gun violence. “We are pro-life,” they yelled, “and that means that we want to see every step necessary to preserve the lives of children.” Imagine a world in which pro-life activists chained themselves to the gates of gun factories and shamed gun company executives on their way to work every day.

Imagine that these attitudes were part of a culture wide valuing of children, a culture that loved children so much that it took extraordinary steps to preserve their lives. The government provided free health care for every single child, regardless of family income. People brought their children here from other countries for our free health care and we said, “Great. Bring them. Children are so precious and valuable that we wouldn’t sleep knowing that there was a suffering child in the world that we could have helped, but didn’t.”

Imagine that this love of children extended to education. In fact, imagine that education was one of the biggest budget items for federal and state spending. “Nothing is too good for our children,” said political leaders. “We will make sure that every school has nothing but the newest and best facilities and enough qualified teachers that class sizes can be small. Every child has the personal attention of excellent teachers, and that goes double for children growing up in poor neighborhoods.” Not all the politicians believed this, of course, but in this world, the only way you could get elected was by being a good friend to public schools. And no, there aren’t any charters or vouchers in this world– why would you need them when every public school had the very best in resources, staff and facilities, with the necessary resources to meet the individual needs of each child. “Man,” groused the Pentagon in this world. “I wish we could get the kind of unwavering support public schools get. We have to fight and scrape and argue for every cent.”

The richest woman in Connecticut no longer gives to charter schools and Teach for America. Barbara Dalio has shifted her giving to public schools.

She fell in love with public education.

She fell in love with the schools that take everyone, even the least of them, the children that the charters reject.

She got woke.

In the past three years alone, the foundation, which Barbara co-founded with her husband, has donated $50 million to public education programs in Connecticut.

“I never thought I would get into education because it’s not my background, so I am learning as I go along,” she said. “I love it. I don’t play golf or tennis. This is my passion.”

Connecticut Adds Two More Billionaires To The Forbes 400 List. Here’s A Look At All Nine Members.
Dalio, 70, who is universally described as humble and hands-on, said in an interview last week that her shift toward traditional public school districts came about as she learned more about education and became concerned about the achievement gap and students who are disengaged from school.

Dalio said she observed that the kids who go to public charter schools have parents who are often more involved and have the initiative to seek out an alternative for their child.

But many parents, she said, don’t have the time to do that.

“It’s not that they don’t care about the kids,” Dalio said of those parents. “It’s that they are burdened in many instances with just one parent having two or three jobs. That really struck me.”

It’s a shift that some of the wealthy donors that have focused on charters and other reform efforts are also making in recent years, some experts say.

A few years ago, there was a feeling among some wealthy donors that giving to local neighborhood schools might be a waste of money, said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute.

“Now the zeitgeist has changed,” said Hess. “TFA [Teach for America] and charter schooling are more controversial than they were eight or 10 years ago for various reasons and after the teacher strikes, teachers are more sympathetic. There’s a sense that if you’re a wealthy person and you’re trying to give away dollars in a way that you feel good about, you might make different choices in 2018 than you did in 2008.”

When Dalio arrived as an immigrant from Spain in her 20s, she knew very little about the American educational system except that she saw it is as inspiring.

“One of the things that struck me was all the people that succeeded or were able to have a very good education just through the public schools,” Dalio said. “I just admire that democratic side that the United States has. I don’t know if it still has it but I thought it was so amazing that anyone of any social class can just go to a public school and get a great education.”

Dalio, who lives in Greenwich, learned more about the public schools as she raised her four sons who attended both public and private schools and had very different needs and learning styles.

“I didn’t have a formula that would work for all of them, so I had to be very nimble and had to rely on teachers to help me help them,” Dalio said. “So that’s how my love for teachers started because they were always really there for me and for them. They were very caring.”

As the family’s foundation was expanding, Dalio said, “I really felt for the public schools and I really wanted to be helpful.”

But she realized she needed to be educated. So she began volunteering at an alternative high school in Norwalk where she started coming in once every two weeks and soon was up to two or three times a week.

“I learned really how many needs the kids have because they had kids with learning differences, kids that have had trauma in their lives, kids with emotional needs,” Dalio said, as well as kids who are hungry. “So it really is challenging for the school, the teachers to address all of those needs, especially with [budget] cuts” that eliminate social workers or mental health programs, she said.

Dalio said she learned through the alternative school and also with her own children, one of whom has bipolar disorder, that all children can succeed if given the right the services and help.

Her own son is in very good shape now, she said, “but it took a lot of resources and patience and time and you know if we didn’t succeed, he could have been just one of those kids.”

“So I always feel a bit for the underdog … or the kids that don’t have opportunities and I see that if you give them what they need, which is sometimes not that much, [with] just a little attention and love, you can really turn them around…”

David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy, said he hopes “other philanthropists will pay attention to what (Dalio is) doing and the hands-on immersive approach she’s taken, which is how philanthropy should operate if it doesn’t want to alienate the people it needs to engage to succeed.”

“If Barbara ever gets focused on the national level,” Callahan said, “I think that could be a big deal, given her mindset and the sensibility she brings to this space.”

Public education should not have to depend on the goodwill of philanthropists. It is a civic duty to educate all children through taxation.

But billionaires have banded together to destroy education and to promote choice instead of raising taxes.

Thank you, Ms. Dalio, for putting your money where it does the most good for the most children.