Archives for category: Dark Money

The Guardian reports that the Club for Growth, a radical rightwing group of the super-rich, poured millions into campaigns to help elect Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others who took a stand against facts, a fair election, and the U.S. Constitution.

The Club for Growth wants low taxes. Why should the uber-rich expect to pay more in taxes, after all? They hate social programs and anything that enables the federal government to protect the general welfare.

An anti-tax group funded primarily by billionaires has emerged as one of the biggest backers of the Republican lawmakers who sought to overturn the US election results, according to an analysis by the Guardian.

The Club for Growth has supported the campaigns of 42 of the rightwing Republicans senators and members of Congress who voted last week to challenge US election results, doling out an estimated $20m to directly and indirectly support their campaigns in 2018 and 2020, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

About 30 of the Republican hardliners received more than $100,000 in indirect and direct support from the group.

The Club for Growth’s biggest beneficiaries include Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, the two Republican senators who led the effort to invalidate Joe Biden’s electoral victory, and the newly elected far-right gun-rights activist Lauren Boebert, a QAnon conspiracy theorist.

Ken Rice was an elected member of the Oakland Unified School District from 1997-2000. That was before the billionaire disrupters decided to take control of Oakland and turn it into their own petri dish for “reform” (i.e., privatization). Rice wrote the following description of the recent school board election, in which grassroots organizations stood together and beat the candidates of the out-of-district/out-of-state billionaires. He is a member of Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS), an Oakland-based organization composed primarily of retired public school teachers, administrators and school board members. When Ken Rice ran for school board, his race cost $12,000. Due to the intrusion of big money, grassroots groups are always outspent and usually overwhelmed. But Rice explains here how Oakland parents and educators fought back and won.

He writes:

Apparently Money Isn’t Always Everything–$300,000 Beats $900,000 In The Oakland School Board Elections!

In nearly 20 years of privatization push into Oakland, this is the first time since 2003 that Oakland schools will be returned to local control by a school board that values and embraces authentic public education. Remaining hopeful for the future, and look forward to strengthening and improving Oakland’s schools.” ~ Diane Ravitch 

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), the petri dish for school privatization for the past two decades, might have an answer.  I ran and was elected to the Oakland school board and served one term (1997-2000).  I raised $12,000.  My opponent raised about the same amount.  In those days the school board elections were neighborhood races funded by local supporters. There was no out of state money or PACs involved. 

That began to change about ten years ago:  huge donations from individuals and foundations began to pour into Oakland school board races.  The money was funneled through the California Charter School Association and GO (Great Oakland Public Schools), a pro-charter organization.  The money also came from Michael Bloomberg, the Walton Foundation, Eli Broad, Laurene Jobs (Steve Jobs’ widow), and several more.  The goal was to elect a pro-charter, Board of Education. Unsurprisingly, the pro-charter organizations were successful.  

The Oakland school board has approved about 65 charter school applications over the last twenty years–many of them in the last 12 years.   Of those charters, about twenty have closed their doors—in some cases during the academic year, causing great dislocation to families who had to find another school for their children mid-year.  OUSD now has 30% of its 50,000 students in charter schools—the highest percentage of students in charters of any school district in California. 

What is surprising is what happened in the 2020 election.  For the first time in memory no incumbents were running for any of the four of the seven school board seats up for election.  Thus, there was a possibility of greatly changing the make-up of the school board, whose majority has opted for policies of charter school approval, school closures and lack of responsiveness to the greater Oakland educational community.  This was an opportunity to flip the board . . . and flip it did!

The charter community recognized this opportunity, and poured almost $900,000 into electing their candidates for the four open seats! Yet when the votes were counted, three of their four candidates lost.

Trying to understand how and why this happened can provide an insight into the educational landscape of not only Oakland, but urban cities nationally.  While it might be early to know for certain why the charter candidates were defeated, we can make some educated guesses.

Strong Local Candidates

Two of the three candidates who won had deep Oakland roots.  Two had been teachers (one in Oakland, one in San Francisco) and the other had worked in Oakland’s after school programs.   Two had been community activists around school issues for years.  

Oakland elections are calculated by ranked choice voting (RCV).  When the RCV was tabulated, Sam Davis, the candidate in District 1 received 62% of the vote.  Sam built a stellar campaign focused around school communities. He held zoom meetings with each school community in his district hosted by a combination of parents and teachers who worked in those schools.  VanCedric Williams, in District 3, got 61%.  VanCedric, a public school teacher for almost twenty years, had strong support from the teacher’s union as well as other unions. Mike Hutchinson in District 5 got 56%.  Mike had run for the Board previously, networked with other education activists nationwide, and had built a reputation of challenging Board policies by going to Board meetings for years and reaching out on social media. 

Backing of the Teacher’s Union

Last year, teachers in Oakland led a successful strike. The union’s ability to drum up enthusiasm with their members was one contributor to that success.  Teachers recognized that if their future demands were to be met, they needed to have a responsive Board.  Specifically, the current Board was considering a plan that would close up to 24 schools in Oakland, mostly in Brown and Black communities.  At the same time, none of the 44 charter schools in Oakland were under threat of closure.  Teachers made the connection between a charter friendly board and school closures of the public schools and were determined to change the direction of the district’s “blueprint”.

Teachers phone banked, texted, walked to drop off literature, and held zoom meetings in support of the three candidates who won.  As Sam Davis noted, many voters tend to rely on their friends and neighbors who know something about the schools.  The friends and neighbors were telling each other to vote for the candidates they trusted.

Backing of Other Groups:  Building a Coalition

The three candidates were endorsed by the Democratic Party.  This wasn’t an accident.  Educational activists pushed the local democratic clubs to endorse candidates who would not be friendly to charters and wouldn’t owe their election to big money.  These clubs, in turn, pushed the local Democratic party.  In California the state Democratic party has taken a critical stance towards charter schools, and this was replicated locally.  Organizers noticed that as people walked to the polls on election day, many of them carried the Democratic Party door hanger with them. Some of these candidates were also endorsed by :

  • The Alameda Central Labor Council
  • SEIU 1021
  • State Assemblyperson Rob Bonta
  • State Superintendent of Schools Tony Thurmond
  • Network for Public Education

Also, other community organizations like Educators for Democratic Schools, Democratic Socialists of America, and Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club helped to call, text, and walk precincts.

The Word is Out

You can fool some of the people all of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, or so Lincoln believed.  Over time, the general public has begun to understand that there is an attempt to buy their votes.  As I dropped off a flier at one home, a parent came to the door and asked, with hostility, “This isn’t the candidate who is getting all that money from Bloomberg, is it?”  Several media sources reported on money from Bloomberg ($500,000 from Bloomberg alone!) and others pouring into Oakland.  

After recovering from the astonishment that anyone would spend that kind of money for a school board election, voters became leery of candidates receiving those huge amounts of money.  In District 1 where I live–and the charter candidate received nearly $300,000!–I found glossy fliers in my mailboxes more times than I could keep track of.

It is profoundly disturbing and a huge threat to our democracy that this big money trend has filtered down to local school board races. The Oakland community fought back against the billionaires’ spending advantage, and when the new board is seated in January, it will have a clear pro-public school majority.  With appealing candidates and strong ground games, Oakland voters have shown that big money can be defeated. While Oakland will never go back to the days when a local neighborhood candidate spent only $12,000 to be elected, this recent victory over out of state billionaire bucks and their agenda sends a clear signal that our community will not be bought.

(Ken Rice is former OUSD board member, a member of Educators for Democratic Schools and currently has a daughter attending an OUSD school.) 

If you have not read Duke Professor Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, you should. I reviewed it for the New York Review of Books here. It describes in great detail how the Koch brothers created an academic foundation for their extremist libertarian views. In this paper, MacLean goes into new detail about the workings of the Koch network and its efforts to undermine democracy. The Koch network knows that it does not have popular support so it has developed ways to “work around” the will of the majority. Currently, its major project is to block any effort to confront climate change.

The paper is titled “Since We Are Greatly Outnumbered: Why and How the Koch Network Uses Disinformation to Thwart Democracy.” The essay appears in a publication called The Disinformation Age, published by Cambridge University Press.

Thanks to “Unkoch My Campus” for bringing this paper to a large audience.

John Loflin of Indianapolis writes about the money flowing into the city’s school board elections from out-of-state billionaires and their usual front called Stand for Children.

Loflin writes:

To whom it may concern:

Just in case you have not seen this Recorder story, “Political groups give over $200,000 to Charter friendly candidates for IPS” here’s the link: Political Groups Give $200,000 To Some Candidates In IPS Board Race.

This inordinate, almost obscene, amount of money–notably from out of state donors–just to run for a board seat in a school district with just 31,000+ students, raises deep concerns about how democratic is the institution of public education in Indianapolis: http://vorcreatex.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Purchasing-the-2012-2014-and-2016-IPS-school-board-elections.pdf.
Who is flooding Indianapolis with such large amounts of money?

We know Stand for Children/Mind Trust are now spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, using a 501c4 in Oregon, to elect their candidates. We also know that Stand for Children, the Mind Trust, Rise Indy, and the Teachers Alliance for Equitable Public Schools (TAEPS) are all part of the same group of people out to buy and control IPS. They’re funded by conservative white billionaires like Michael Bloomberg or Alice Walton who will never step foot in Indianapolis. And they use state legislation created by the conservative/right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

Check the diagram connecting all the dots “Out of state ed reform money floods into Indiana communities.”https://www.indianacoalitionforpubliced.org/2020/10/25/out-of-state-education-reform-money-floods-into-indiana-communities/?fbclid=IwAR0YlnDEXVJorGXk1It7xIpnRSlp9FBEtISSVZjZOh7r415toXBRF7DqlEY

Inline image

Now Bart Peterson’s PAC, Hoosiers for Great Public Schools, is in the mix,
IPS candidate Mr. Kenneth Allen $$

https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/ips-school-board-candidates-biography-raises-questions

http://ofm.indy.gov/CampaignFinanceAPI/Document/Index?documentName=IPS+School+Board%5cAllen%2c+Kenneth_schbd-msdips_2020-10-14_CFA-4-PE.pdf  $102, 333

http://ofm.indy.gov/CampaignFinanceAPI/Document/Index?documentName=IPS+School+Board%5cAllen%2c+Kenneth_schbd-msdips_2020-10-14_CFA-11.pdf   +$21,000=$123,333Search IPS candidate’s campaign finance records here:https://www.indy.gov/workflow/search-campaign-finance-records
A closer look at Bart Peterson’s Hoosiers for Great Public Schools PAC which has $400,000.00

https://campaignfinance.in.gov/INCF/TempDocs/411150e6-8fb6-4c1e-aaf6-c25bd5769224.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1-MfMLKt7Lyan4RHG_M2VglDQ6cQqXq5oKCfJ5J_p5A_2a2HVOYjypqBk

Rise Indy PAC has $559,995.00https://campaignfinance.in.gov/INCF/TempDocs/7a1c3a86-0c53-419d-a8a0-efe4588f2660.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1Sew-TmY98x3s3ROeqd-ZE6Dd2AadxFzeKpYN9awQQp5vu2cGr4kuJrHUHere’s the article “Who paid to make IPS the 2nd most privatized school district in the US?”

https://dianeravitch.net/2020/04/30/tom-ultican-who-paid-to-make-indianapolis-the-second-most-privatized-school-district-in-the-nation/Here’s an essay I wrote, “Does Indianapolis actually want an entirely privatized school district?http://vorcreatex.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Does-Indianapolis-actually-want-an-entire-privatized-school-system.pdf
Let’s have a public conversation about why someone needs $123K to run for school board, and if we have a democracy or a corporatocracy.

John Harris Loflin

Parent Power–Indianapolis affiliate of Parents Across AmericaEducation-Community Action Team

317.998.1339

Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, gave a masterful presentation on the power of dark money at the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Please take 30 minutes and watch it. If we don’t put a stop to the power of dark money, we will lose our democracy.

Senator Whitehouse names names. He details the “Scheme,” the money trail, the big donors (where they can be identified) who are buying our democracy and choosing Supreme Court Justices.

Their three big legal goals right now: to overturn Roe v. Wade; to overturn the gay marriage decision; to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans are rushing through Judge Barrett’s confirmation so that she can be a member of the Supreme Court when Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is argued on November 10.

Maurice Cunningham is a dogged researcher into Dark Money and its role in the pursuit of privatizing public education. Cunningham is a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts. Open the link and read in full.

In his latest post, he reports that Koch money as well as Walton money, Zuckerberg money, Gates money, and Dell money, is supporting the “National Parents Union,” a front for the billionaires.

He writes:

There’s millions of dollars sloshing around Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union these days. Some of it is from Charles Koch…

The Koch connection was apparent when Charles Koch put a proxy on the board of National Parents Union. Now we know for sure Koch has money invested in NPU. Others holding stakes in NPU (housed in the same shop as Massachusetts Parents Union and run by the same team) include Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Reed Hoffman, John Arnold, Eli Broad, etc.

It’s not just Koch, the Waltons are tossing even more money at NPU.

NPU is also feasting on big bucks from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm.

Cunningham reminds us to “follow the noney. Dark Money never sleeps.”

And he adds:

We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” – Louis Brandeis

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