Archives for category: Dark Money

Dark money—anonymous donors—are pouring money into primary campaigns. The main donor is the Oklahoma Federation of Children, the state affiliate of Betsy DeVos’ American Federation of Children. Never in history has there been a Secretary of Education with her own political PAC.

In this powerful post, NBCT teacher Stuart Egan describes the calculated attack on democracy and social justice in North Carolina.

The state was once considered one of the most enlightened in the South. It is now one of the most regressive, taken down by the Tea Party, by a legislature dominated by ALEC, and by politicians determined to destroy opportunity for people of color and poor people.

Egan provides a timeline of North Carolina’s descent, which accelerated after the Tea Party capture of the General Assembly in 2010. Behind the scenes, big money pushed ALEC bills.

Egan writes:

That timeline is filled with actions that are calculated, highly crafted, delicately executed, and driven by dogma deliberately done to hurt public education and communities that rely on public schools. Each occurred before the May 16th, 2018 march in Raleigh.

Citizens United, you may remember, allowed for corporations and other entities to donate to political candidates. It gave rise to PACs and SUPERPACs. It’s why you now see an incredible amount of money in political races donated by people who have a vested interest in a race or candidate but cannot vote in that race.

HB17 was the legislation produced in a special session in December of 2016 right before Roy Cooper took office. It was a power grab that granted the incoming state superintendent, Mark Johnson, the most power any state super had ever had. Johnson might be the most unqualified person to ever hold the job. What ensued was a lawsuit between Johnson and the State Board of Education that lasted for 18 months. Ultimately, it cemented Johnson’s role as a puppet and led to DPI’s reorganization and reduction of personnel.

The Innovative School District is an educational reform that allows the state to select “poor” performing schools to be taken over by an out-of-state entity. In three years, it has only one school under its umbrella, but has gone through multiple leaders.

And then there was the Voter ID law, racially driven gerrymandered political maps, and the abolishment of automatically paycheck deductions for groups like NCAE. (Yes, the Voter ID law and the gerrymandered districting has been overruled, but we still as a state have not had an election cycle since both were overturned.)

It used to not be this way, but after the Great Recession of 2008 and the rise of a new wing of the Republican Party, a noticeable shift occurred in North Carolina politics. Decades ago, public education was championed by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Think of governors like Holshousher and Martin and you will see a commitment to funding public education like NC saw with Sanford, Hunt, and Easley. The governor’s office and the General Assembly were often in different hands politically speaking, but on the issue of public education, they stood much more united than it is today.

That unification is not there anymore. And it wasn’t caused by public education or its advocates. It was planted, fed, fostered, and championed by those who came to power after the Great Recession. These are not Eisenhower Republicans or Reagan Republicans; they are ALEC Republicans whose sole purpose is to politicize all things and try and privatize as many public goods as possible. And on a state level, nothing is more of a public good than public schools.

They have been very adept at combining racial and social issues with public education to make it hard not only to compartmentalize each through legislation, but easy to exploit how much social and racial issues are tied to public education without people thinking they are interlinked. Laws and mandates like HB2, the Voter ID Law, the gerrymandered districts, and the attempted judicial system overhaul have as much to do with the health of public schools as any other factor.

When you keep people from being able to vote, you affect public education. When you keep people below the poverty line, you affect public education. When you gerrymander districts along racial lines, you affect public education. You cannot separate them exclusively. And we have lawmakers in power who know that very well. It’s why when you advocate for public schools, you must be aware of social and racial issues and be willing to fight along those lines.

Public school advocacy that was “successful” before 2008 will not work as effectively in 2020. No ALEC aligned politician who is in a right to work state that outlaws collective bargaining is going to “work with” advocacy groups like NCAE.

For NCAE and other groups to truly advocate for public schools, they must fight for issues outside of school rooms that affect the very students, teachers, and staff who come into those school rooms.

By every measure, North Carolina has regressed and opposed equity and democracy.

For example, “Now name the only state in the country with the lowest legal minimum wage, no collective bargaining rights, no Medicaid expansion, loosely regulated voucher and charter school expansion, and a school performance grading system that measures achievement over growth. North Carolina.“

The legislators who have passed regressive laws are not interested in dialogue or reason. They knew exactly what they were doing. They don’t negotiate. They don’t listen. They must be voted out of office.

As every reader of this blog knows, Mercedes Schneider is a relentless, dogged, and accurate researcher. She has the skills to dig through IRS reports and other online data that connect the dots and reveal how big money and Dark Money are controlling organizations and elections, thus endangering our democracy. In addition to teaching high school English in Louisiana, she has a doctorate in research methods and statistics. She’s good at taking a complicated subject and teaching it.

In 2018, Mercedes was invited to do a workshop at the annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Indianapolis with Andrea Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti about digging for data. The session was packed.

So many people wanted to learn more that Mercedes decided to write a book sharing her knowledge.

This is the book, published by Garn Press.

Mercedes announced the book.

My latest book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies, is now available for purchase on Amazon.

Garn Press will have the book available for purchase on March 03, 2020.

About the book:

In A Practical Guide to Digital Research, Schneider draws on her years of experience as an educational researcher to offer an easy-to-read, easy-to-digest, concise tutorial for equipping both novice and more experienced researchers in navigating numerous research sources. These include nonprofit tax form search engines, newspaper archives, social media sites, internet archives, campaign filings/ethics disclosures, teaching credential search engines, and legal filings. Also covered are tips on conducting both email and in-person interviews, filing public records requests, and conducting pointed, fruitful Google searches.This powerful, practical text is built upon a foundation of actual examples from Schneider’s own research in education—examples that she dissects and explains as a means of teaching her readers how to effectively make these valuable lessons their own. Though Schneider’s own research is chiefly in the education reform arena, the resources, skills and techniques offered in A Practical Guide to Digital Research transcend any single research field and are indispensable for confronting a variety of research queries. Useful as a classroom text or for independent research study, the book provides foundational learning for those new to research investigation as well as surprising, valuable lessons for more experienced researchers challenging themselves to learn even more.

For those interested, Amazon allows readers to view the book, including its table of contents.

The the idea for this book stems from a presentation I participated in with colleagues Andres Gabor and Darcie Cimarusti on tracking the funding related to the promotion of market-based education reform titled, “Where Did All This Money Come From??: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” at the 2018 Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Indianapolis.

I know you will love this book. I predict that Bill Gates, John Arnold, Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch will not.

And a reminder: there are still a few openings at the 2020 annual conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia on March 28-29. It will be at the Doubletree Hilton.It is a great opportunity to meet your allies from a rossthe nation. Please register now!

One of the very exciting episodes in my new book SLAYING GOLIATH describes the struggle in Massachusetts  surrounding a 2016 referendum to expand the number of charter schools in the state. The referendum was called Question 2. Yes on 2 received funding from billionaires (the Waltons and Bloomberg), DFER (hedge fund managers), and out-of-state groups whose donors were unknown. The last group is called “Dark Money” because it hides the names of the donors.

On February 26, I will be at the First UU Church in Cambridge at an event sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools, joined in conversation with two of the prominent figures in that campaign, Barbara Madeloni (who was president of the Massachusetts Teachers Union) and Maurice Cunningham (a professor of political science at the U of Mass whose blogs reported on Dark Money in the campaign),

The groups that fought Question 2 were teachers’ unions, civil rights groups, and local school boards.

The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated.

After the election, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance investigated the funding of the campaigns. It found that one of the funders of the “Yes on 2” side was a Dark Money front based in New York City. It required the group to disclose the names of its donors and fined the group nearly $500,000, which cleaned out its bank account. Not long after, the Dark Money Group (which had also stacked the deck in New York State without being exposed) collapsed and closed its doors.

Recently, the director of this state office retired, and parents thanked him for upholding the integrity of state elections.

This letter to the editor by a parent activist appeared in the Boston Globe.

 

Watchdogs have state’s outgoing campaign finance chief to thank
 

What a pleasure to read Matt Stout’s folksy portrait of Michael Sullivan, who retired last month as director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (“A career spent helping people ‘do things right,’ ” Business, Dec. 25). I met Sullivan at a “hackathon” sponsored by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The center needed volunteers to test computer software. We got pizza, and a little orientation from the state’s campaign finance chief, who trained neophytes to navigate Office of Campaign and Political Finance databases.

Behind the scenes, Sullivan’s staff investigated an unusual pattern of financial transactions. They discovered that Families for Excellent Schools – Advocacy Inc. of New York illegally solicited, received, and funneled funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot question committee to influence the 2016 Massachusetts election and increase charter school market share. Sullivan skillfully negotiated a six-figure fine.

Thanks to Sullivan, citizens can comb campaign finance data for evidence of expenditures that reveal fake-news media events. Remember those rallies with people wearing blue T-shirts demanding “Great Schools Now”? It turns out Great Schools Massachusetts paid for the T-shirts and had people show up at events to give the illusion of massive dissatisfaction with our public schools.

If only I had a “Great Schools Now” campaign T-shirt, I would give it to Sullivan in gratitude for providing me a political education I never received in school.

Peggy A. Wiesenberg

Boston

Andre Perry led a charter chain in New Orleans. He became disillusioned. As a black scholar, he questions the Walton-funded effort to portray black support for charters as monolithic, which it is not. 

Perry wrote in response to the controversy that occurred when pro-charter demonstrators disrupted a speech by Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. He is aware of the white Republican money behind the demand for more charters.

He wrote:

Warren needs to learn from black voices — but the charter school movement is not ours to defend.

Organizations such as the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools have orchestrated statewide campaigns using dark money to influence state ballots to increase the number of charter schools, hiding who’s actually behind the movement. The Associated Press reported in December 2018 that an advocacy group that received $1.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education reform, paid for 150, mostly black parents from Memphis to travel to Cincinnati two years prior to protest at a meeting of the NAACP. The parents sought to lobby against an NAACP proposal — which the organization passed despite the protests — to call for a moratorium on charter schools. They denied that the Walton Family Foundation asked them to carry out the protest.

This political season, black people cannot afford to be human shields for white leaders who don’t have the legitimacy to enter black communities on their own.

Perry notes that most Democratic candidates, notably Sanders and Warren, have abandoned charters.

He writes:

This reversal of position by Democrats is a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities….

Over the course of more than two decades, charter school expansion resulted in a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities. Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J., decimating the black middle class there.

Hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards electing pro-charter candidates ultimately empowered Republicans in many states. The pro-charter group Students First realized that its funding of Republican candidates had backfired. The association of the charter cause with the Republic party lead to the defeat of pro-charter proposals. Democratic voters showed they will not support movements that bolster the Republican Party — the same party that refuses to check Trump’s blatant racism. Democrats who support the idea of charter schools should make it clear to Republicansthat they will not tolerate a charter system that offers improved academic performance for some black students only by harming the communities in which those students live.

However, Democrat reformers developed a bad habit of accepting this Faustian bargain, and staying silent in red states on issues like jail expansion, cuts to higher education and attacks on organized labor because dissent ran the risk of slowing the proliferation of charters. Yes, black families want and need choice, but the current charter school movement is too tightly braided with Republican causes; a defense of one is a defense of the other.

To embrace charter schools in 2020 is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits. Black kids lose when Democratic educational reformers act like Republicans.

Perry quotes the EdNext poll, noting that the publication is “pro-reform.” It is more accurate to acknowledge that EdNext (on whose board I once served) is a very conservative, pro-charter, pro-voucher publication funded by rightwing foundations. Frankly, polls about charters are worthless because most people admit when asked that they aren’t sure what a “charter school” is. If they don’t know what a charter school is, how can their view—positive or negative—signify anything?

Perry is right to point out that the Dark Money behind charters has a different agenda than most black parents. The Waltons and DeVos and their allies in ALEC want to bust teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. Perry is right to peer behind the curtain and see whose interest is served by the well-funded attacks on public schools.

He writes:

The funders of charter schools continuously put black parents and teachers in the position of fighting against their own interests. White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative. For-profit charters are in education ostensibly for the money.

Some black charter leaders feel they must defend the schools because black children attend them. But we don’t need to fall into that trap. We can defend black children and workers without defending charter schools. Black people need systemic change. We can’t allow the cry for charters to drown out the demands for school financing reform, better work conditions, higher teacher pay, universal pre-K, free college, teachers’ training and recruitment programs, stronger labor protections and workforce housing initiatives.

 

Maurice Cunningham, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist in “follow the money.”

He writes in his latest post that the Waltons are targeting Elizabeth Warren not so much because of her stance on charter schools but because of her proposed wealth tax.

He writes:

If the Waltons hate anything so much as unions, it would be taxes. The family and WalMart are huge into tax dodging. And guess who has a plan for that? Elizabeth Warren. So yes the Waltons are big into charter schools but they are bigger into their own wealth. Disrupting Warren on any grounds is a good thing to them. Remember, dark money is never what it seems.

Here in Massachusetts the Waltons have their own political operation as I showed in The Walton Family’s Massachusetts Political Team, 2019.

And the beauty of these political operations the Walton Family Foundation backs in Massachusetts and around the country? They are mostly tax deductible at the top rate of thirty-seven percent. The Waltons pick up about sixty-three percent of this and you, the grateful taxpayer, pick up thirty-seven percent.

When the Waltons push charter schools, what they really mean is lower state and local taxes on Wal-Mart. When the Waltons try to shout down Elizabeth Warren, it’s about the wealth tax. The Waltons do all this with tax deductible political fronts. Taxes, taxes, taxes.

What happened in Georgia is that a taxpayer subsidized unit of the political front of one of America’s richest families attempted to shut down a political candidate. Expect more of this.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

At this very moment, Walmart is suing various states (even Arkansas) to lower their property taxes! That means less money available to support public schools and other public services! This is a family whose collective wealth is more than $160 billion, and they think their property taxes are too high!

Maurice Cunningham played an important role in the referendum about charter school expansion in Massachusetts in 2016 by revealing Dark Money and its sources; I write about him in my forthcoming book SLAYING GOLIATH. And the first page of the book quotes his memorable line: “Money never sleeps. Follow the money.”

 

 

Maurice Cunningham is the ghostbuster of Dark Money in education. He is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. He is a hero of the Resistance in my forthcoming book SLAYING GOLIATH.

In this post, he details the efforts of the Walton Family of Arkansas to block the Massachusetts’ legislators who are trying to increase funding for the public schools of their state.

He writes:

The three interest groups pushing to undermine the Massachusetts senate’s education funding bill are all Walton funded, two of them essentially full-time agents of the Waltons. They have to solve a problem for the right-wing Wal-Mart heirs: not that funding public education might fail, but that it will succeed.

The Waltons, who contributed over $2 million in dark and gray money to the pro-charters side in 2016 through mechanisms set up by Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts, would prefer to promote charter schools and charge toward a fully privatized system with employee relations mimicking those of Wal-Mart itself. But the political momentum now is all in the direction of a vast increase in public funding, and the Waltons’ best hope is to throw sand into the implementation gears.

He quotes from two books that explain the Walton ideology. This is one:

This is the ideological mind set of the Waltons, as explained by historian Nelson Lichtenstein in The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. Of The Walton family’s interest in education, Lichtenstein writes:

Because so much of Walton and Wal-Mart philanthropy is crudely self-interested, critics are tempted to find a pecuniary motive for the Walton family’s interest in education. But their support for competition and privatization is an entirely ideological project, based on a desire to enhance the social and cultural value of a free market in which government is weak while public goods like hurricane relief, education, and health care are the fodder for entrepreneurial transformation. Since public schools are by far the most pervasive of public institutions, and highly unionized to boot, this “$700-plus-billion-a-year industry”—John Walton’s phrase—has been a good place to start.

If you think all this sounds somewhat Koch-like, Charles and the late David Koch committed to K-12 education reform too –by which they also mean to destroy public education. The Kochs and Waltons have kicked in $5 million each as partners in a project called 4.0 that will be an ideas factory for privatization. Also, never untangle the Kochs or Waltons ideology with their fervor for low taxes on themselves.

 

I am very excited!

My new book was just announced!

The title is: SLAYING GOLIATH: The Impassioned Fight to Defeat the Privatization Movement and to Save America’s Public Schools. 

It will be published on January 14, 2020, by Knopf, the most prestigious publisher in America. The editor is the brilliant Victoria Wilson, who is also an author, having written the definitive biography of Barbara Stanwyck.

In Slaying Goliath, you will read about the heroes of the Resistance, those who stood up to Big Money and defeated disruption in their schools, their communities, their cities, their states.

It is a book of inspiration and hope.

It shows how determined citizens—parents, students, teachers, everyone—can stand up for democracy, can stand up to the billionaires, and win.

Please consider pre-ordering your copy so you can be sure to get the first edition.

 

 

Maurice Cunningham, a dogged investigator of Dark Money, has discovered a shell operation funded by the multibillionaire Walton family. 

It is called the “National Patents Union,” and its goal is to defund public schools and transfer public money to private hands.

Its leader Keri Rodriguez led the effort in Massachusetts to raise the cap on charter schools in 2016. The referendum would have allowed a dozen new charters every year forever, located wherever they chose. The vote went overwhelmingly against the charter proposition.

But wherever there is money, there are people ready to pick up the banner of privatization. And the Waltons, whose fortune exceeds $150 Billion, have plenty to spend in their quest to destroy public schools.

Democracy is under attack, not only in D.C., but in the state capitols.

To understand just how serious this attack is, how insidious it is, how well-funded it is, please open the link.

This new USA Today/Arizona Republic/Center for Public Integrity in-depth investigation is a bombshell report on the thousands of “copy-and-paste bills” introduced and passed in state legislatures which purport to represent local interests but instead further a corporate or industry agenda. Among the goals: passing ESA Vouchers that siphon public funds from public education and redirect them to private, religious and home schooling.

ALEC and corporate America are churning out legislation that is introduced in your state under false pretenses as “reform.” Every one of these bills is meant to protect corporations and profiteers, whether in health care or any other industry.

You may have noticed a sudden mushrooming of voucher legislation in state after state. It was not written by your legislators. It was written by the rightwing corporate funded American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC.

Not only is ALEC funded by corporations, it is funded by the DeVos family and the Koch brothers.

Arizona SOS beat them last fall by fighting for a referendum on vouchers. ALEC and the Koch brothers lost 65-35. The corporate mobsters hate refunds. They prefer to buy legislators, which is easier and cheaper.

There is quite a lot of fascinating material about the hoaxing of the public.

Here is the education piece:

“For Susan Edwards, it seemed like a godsend when Arizona lawmakers introduced a bill to create a new kind of school voucher for students with disabilities.

“With the money – funded by dollars taken from a recipient’s local district school – the mother of two children on the autism spectrum could send her kids to a private school where they would receive specialized attention they wouldn’t get elsewhere.

“With a sympathetic group of students as the face of the legislation, Democrats and Republicans rallied behind the 2011 bill which borrowed language from the Goldwater Institute, ALEC, and American Federation for Children, the pro-school choice group founded by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

“Edwards’ opinion of the program, however, changed drastically as legislators later introduced bill after bill to give vouchers to more students, culminating in lawmakers approving them for all students.

“None of those bills, however, guaranteed Edwards’ sons and others with disabilities could keep their vouchers as more students were added. She didn’t know it at the time, but lawmakers were drawing their ideas from model  legislation.

“Edwards said  she realized in retrospect that students with disabilities were used as a Trojan horse to put on the legislative agenda a fringe idea that was part of a much bigger campaign. In the years that followed, 19 other states debated 93 nearly identical proposals based on model legislation. They became law in Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Every single, little  expansion, if you look at who’s behind it, it is the people that want to get that door kicked open for private religious education,” Edwards said. ”All we (families with disabled students) are was the way for them to crack open the door.”

“Riches, Goldwater’s CEO, said starting the Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program with a small group of students and expanding it was the best approach.

“When you are talking about a big idea, a new idea, usually the best way of approaching it is to wade into it and demonstrate it can work on a smaller level and then grow it from there,” Riches said.

“The groups behind Arizona’s move toward universal vouchers, however, were shown in indisputable terms that the public opposed their ideas.

“On Election Day 2018, Arizona voters rejected universal vouchers by a 65-35 margin.

“It was only the most recent example of model legislation that didn’t reflect the will of voters, USA TODAY/Arizona Republic found.

“Model-legislation factories have increasingly proposed what are known as “preemption” bills. These laws, in effect, allow state legislators to dictate to city councils and county governing boards what they can and cannot do within their jurisdiction—including preventing them from raising the minimum wage, banning plastic grocery bags, and destroying guns.  

“USA TODAY’s algorithm found more than 100 such bills had been introduced on an expanding array of topics.

“Kansas stopped local efforts to require restaurants to list calories on their menus.

“Arizona and New Hampshire prevented local regulations on home rentals. Airbnb has lobbied against home-sharing restrictions, often with the Goldwater Institute’s assistance.

“One model pushed by ALEC and the Goldwater Institute prohibits local jurisdictions from creating occupational licensing requirements. It reflects conservatives’ and libertarians’ belief that job licensing stifles competition and hurts the economy, and should only be required when it involves health and safety.”

At least 20 states have enacted voucher legislation, most using the ALEC model. Only Arizona held a referendum, which SOS Arizona fought for and handily defeated despite being outspent by the Koch and DeVos forces.