Archives for category: Dark Money

Our political system changed for the worse and became less democratic when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 to lift the ban on political spending by corporations and labor unions. The vote was 5-4. Justice John Roberts joined the conservative bloc to provide the deciding vote. The decision is explained and posted here on the Federal Elections Commission’s website.*

Lloyd Lofthouse, our frequent commentator and friend, wrote the following commentary about the ongoing and disastrous influence of big money in elections:

Private companies becoming citizens and doing this stuff is nothing new.

“But for 100 years, corporations were not given any constitutional right of political speech; in fact, quite the contrary. In 1907, following a corporate corruption scandal involving prior presidential campaigns, Congress passed a law banning corporate involvement in federal election campaigns. That wall held firm for 70 years.” …

“Then came Citizens United, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 First Amendment decision in 2010 that extended to corporations for the first time full rights to spend money as they wish in candidate elections — federal, state and local. The decision reversed a century of legal understanding, unleashed a flood of campaign cash and created a crescendo of controversy that continues to build today.”

https://www.npr.org/2014/07/28/335288388/when-did-companies-become-people-excavating-the-legal-evolution

“Citizens United is a conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization in the United States founded in 1988. In 2010, the organization won a U.S. Supreme Court case known as Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down as unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting corporations and unions from making expenditures in connection with federal elections. The organization’s current president and chairman is David Bossie.[1]”

“Dark Money: Citizens United unleashed unlimited spending in our elections, and groups can now spend hundreds of millions without disclosing their sources of funding. We advocate for greater transparency in election spending.”

https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/reform-money-politics/influence-big-money/dark-money

*The FEC commentary begins with this paragraph about the Citizens United decision:

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overruling an earlier decision, Austin v. Michigan State Chamber of Commerce (Austin), that allowed prohibitions on independent expenditures by corporations. The Court also overruled the part of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission that held that corporations could be banned from making electioneering communications. The Court upheld the reporting and disclaimer requirements for independent expenditures and electioneering communications. The Court’s ruling did not affect the ban on corporate contributions.

I do not understand the last sentence of the paragraph, which contradicts everything that precedes it as well as the practical effect of the CU decision. If there are any lawyers out there who can explain this apparent contradiction, I welcome your comments.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews Dana Milbank’s new book about the crackup of the Republican Party. As I have often said, Milbank is my favorite columnist in the Washington Post.

Thompson writes:

Dana Milbank’s The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party is based on his quarter of a century of political reporting. From 1992 to the present the Republicans won the popular vote only once. There were calls for diversity in their party in order to reach more voters, but it went in the opposite direction. In the 1990s, the false and polarizing propaganda of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, and Fox News took off, as Newt Gingrich became the key political driver of an ideology that would dismantle legislative norms and institutions.

This piece only has room for a brief overview of the 90s. I assume that readers will see and will be shocked by the cruelty and lies of that decade, and how they foreshadow today’s assaults on democracy.

Milbank starts with the suicide of the Clintons’ aide, Vince Foster. Rush Limbaugh, who called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” claimed, “Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.”

The prime donor of Gingrich’s political training organization, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) was Mellon Scaife. Scaife then joined with Christopher Ruddy, who would become Donald Trump’s friend and informal advisor, to found Newsmax. They said Vince Foster’s death showed that Bill Clinton “can order people done away with … God there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously.” (By the way, such words didn’t keep Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating or Congressman J.C. Watts from helping to lead GOPAC.)

Brett Kavanaugh, who assisted in Ken Starr’s investigations of Bill Clinton and helped draft the Starr Report, knew as early as 1995 that “I am satisfied that Foster was sufficiently discouraged or depressed to commit suicide.” But he spent two years investigating, thus legitimizing, what Milbank called “all of the ludicrous claims.” In Kavanaugh’s files, that were released two decades later, were 195 pages of articles by Ruddy and Limbaugh’s transcript on the case.

Milbank writes that once Gingrich became Speaker of House in 1995, he “threw the weight of the speakership behind the Foster conspiracy theory.” That year, Ruddy, Scaife and Newsmax, would spread the lies further.

(By 2016, Rep. Pete Olson said that Bill Clinton admitted to A.G. Loretta Lynch that “we killed Vince Foster.” And Trump said the charges that Foster was murdered are “very serious.” And Milbank concluded that Justice Kavanaugh was not the most ideological of the Supreme Court’s majority, but he was the most political.)

Milbank explains how rightwingers encouraged violence. After the Waco tragedy of 1993, G. Gordon Liddy said of the ATF agents, “Kill the son-of-a-bitches.” Sen. Jesse Helms said “Mr. Clinton better watch his guard if he comes down here (North Carolina). He’d better have a bodyguard.”

Moreover, even though the Fish and Wildlife Department didn’t have helicopters, Rep. Helen Chenoweth said they were “sending armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce regulations and “if they didn’t stop, I will be their “worst nightmare.”

In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Building killed 168 people; Timothy McVeigh said his terrorist act was designed “to put a check on government abuse of power.” But some rightwingers claimed the bombing “was really a botched plot” by the FBI.

Also, Limbaugh asserted, “President Clinton’s ties to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City are tangible.” And Gingrich responded by defending the “genuine fears” of rural America regarding the federal government, and doubled down on repealing of the assault weapons ban.

Milbank goes into detail recounting how Gingrich “changed forever the language of politics.” Gingrich quoted Mao saying, “Politics is war without blood.” And he repeatedly made charges such as the Democrats “‘trash’ America, indict the president and give the benefit of every doubt to Marxist regimes.”

In 1977, a year before Gingrich was first elected, Milbank reports that a Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. After 15 years of his “relentless” attacks, that number was down to 18%. Gingrich then undermined congressional norms that encouraged compromise and constructive actions. During his legislative career, committee and sub-committee meetings dropped by nearly half. By 2017, they had dropped by almost 75%. The ability of Presidents to get laws passed was also undermined. Presidents’ legislative victories dropped from 73% of the agenda under Nixon. At the beginning of the Clinton term, he had a victory rate of 87% but by 2016, President Obama’s rate was 13%.

Another pivotal change occurred after the 1996 defeat of Bob Dole. Republican aide Margaret Tutwiler said, “We’re going to have to take on [board] the religious nuts.” A couple of decades later, White evangelicals were only 15% of the US population but about 40% of Trump’s voters.

And with the arrival of Karl Rove’s anti-gay “whisper campaign” against George W. Bush’s opponent, Ann Richards, personal attacks escalated dramatically. Another example of campaign lies was the attack on Sen. John McCain’s mental stability, and the claim he had “fathered an illegitimate black child.” Actually McCain had adopted a daughter from a Bangladesh orphanage.

Although I had been horrified by the behaviors of the rightwing, Milbank’s details provided me a much better understanding of how the views I’ve held allowed me to remain excessively optimistic. I used to believe that it was deindustrialization and the loss of economic opportunity (accelerated by Reagan’s job-killing Supply Side economics) that mostly fed the racism which propelled Trump into the White House. Now I’m convinced by Milbank’s evidence that it was racism – not economics – that spurred Trumpism.

Also, I had misremembered Mitch McConnell’s record in the 1990s. In 1993, McConnell joined Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in defending the Confederate flag on the Senate floor, saying, “My roots … run deep in the Southern part of the country.” And he stood before a huge Confederate flag at a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

In 1997, McConnell said in a fundraising letter, “Help to protect our country from a potentially devastating nuclear attack.” And he alleged, Clinton’s White House was “sold for ILLEGAL FOREIGN CASH”

I’m assuming that readers of this blog will quickly understand how the Alt Facts spread by politicians like Gingrich are linked to today’s crises. By 2018, only 16% of Republicans trusted the media over Trump. In 2020, people who said they were “very happy” dropped to 14% compared to the previous low of 29%.

Two years later, the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed how the worsening rhetoric was putting people in danger. In 2019, hate crimes increased by 30%, and over 18 months in 2020 and 2021, the FBI nearly tripled its domestic terrorism caseload. FBI director Christopher Wray said, “The violence in 2020 is unlike what we’ve seen in quite some time.” And who knows what the numbers are in the wake of Trump’s response to the subpoenaing of the Secret documents?

The 25-year rightwing siege and Trumpism has put our democracy at risk. Being from Oklahoma City, I’m increasingly worried about the chances of bloodshed. And I’m doubly concerned after reading The Destructionists.

In 1994, Vice President Al Gore explained, “The Republicans are determined to wreck Congress in order to control it – and then wreck a presidency in order to recapture it.” Now, Milbank concludes. “A quarter century after a truck bomb set by an antigovernment extremist … Republicans have lit a fuse on democracy itself.”

Maurice Cunningham, a retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist on the subject of Dark Money. That’s money given to a group or campaign where the donor’s name is hidden. His most recent book is Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Cunningham was instrumental in the defeat of a referendum in Massachusetts in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools. Early polling showed it would pass easily. But Cunningham dug into the funders and discovered that the proposition was funded by billionaires, including the Waltons and Bloomberg. He learned of an astroturf parent group called the National Parents Union, funded by the Waltons to promote charters and pretend there was a huge parent demand for them. The proposition was overwhelmingly defeated.

Imagine his surprise when he learned recently that the U.S. Department of Education was creating a Nation Parents & Families Council, and the National Parents Union was a member. He wrote to Secretary Miguel Cardona to express his concern that NPU was a Walton-funded astroturf group whose goal was to discredit public schools and promote charter schools.

He received a boilerplate response from the U.S. Department of Education’s communications office, dismissing his concerns.

Maurice T. Cunningham Maurice.Cunningham153@gmail.com


Dear Mr. Cunningham,
August 1, 2022


Thank you for your email to Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding National Parents Union (NPU) representation on the Department of Education’s (the Department) National Parents & Families Engagement Council (the Council). Your letter has been forwarded to the Office of Communications and Outreach and I am pleased to respond.
The Department acknowledges your concern and appreciates the in-depth information shared from your research regarding NPU. The Council is an opportunity for the Department to listen, learn and engage families and caregivers and will be a channel for parents and families to constructively participate in their children’s education. The goal of the Council is to be reflective of the diversity of the country and our public schools and the Department is open and accepting of all parent voices.
Again, thank you for your concern regarding organizations participating on the Council. Please know that the Department’s commitment to all parents, and their crucial role in their children’s education, is unwavering. The Secretary and staff here at the Department will continue to not just listen to parents but seek out their counsel and feedback because a school community works best when parents and educators are working together.
Sincerely,
/S/
Kelly Leon
Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach, Delegated the Authority to Perform the
Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Communications and Outreach

Undeterred, Cunningham wrote another letter, going into greater detail.

MAURICE T. CUNNINGHAM, PhD, JD

August 16, 2022

The Honorable Miguel Cardona

Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Ms. Kelly Leon, Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach

U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Cardona and Ms. Leon:

I am in receipt of Ms. Leon’s August 1, 2022 reply to my letter to Secretary Cardona of June 28, 2022 in which I detail some of my research showing that National Parents Union does not belong on the Department of Education’s National Parents and Families Engagement Council. Ms. Leon’s response, which simply recites boilerplate about the council seeking to solicit the views of parent, is disappointing and inadequate. National Parents Union is not a parents’ organization at all. That’s the point.

I would have thought that an organization like NPU that was founded in 2020 and almost immediately received $700,000 in funding from the Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Charles Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, might elicit DOE’s curiosity as to NPU’s authenticity. The WFF and individual Walton family members have been involved in school privatization efforts for years. WalMart, the company inherited by the family, is one of the most virulently anti-labor corporations in the world. As the labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes, WFF is “the single largest source of funding for the ‘school choice’ movement and a powerful advocate of charter schools and voucher initiatives.” The Waltons’ support for 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 . . . education . . . 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.

Charles Koch came to K-12 privatization only in recent years, announcing his intentions in a 2018 Koch Seminar in which another Koch network member ($100,000 required simply to attend) called K-12 privatization “low-hanging fruit.” As reported by the Washington Post’s James Hohmann, “Making a long-term play, the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his like-minded friends on the right are increasingly focused on melding the minds of the next generation by making massive, targeted investments in both K-12 and higher education.” The Koch network “dreamed . . . of breaking the teachers unions.” Charles Koch, skeptical for years about impacting K-12, had a Koch Industries vice-president named Meredith Olson investigate, and her strategic scheme spurred him on.

Meredith Olson is also important because by June 2019 Koch and WFF (both members of Stand Together) were announcing matching $5 million investments in a joint venture named “4.0”to “transform America’s education system” in their corporate image. Ms. Olson was K-12 Initiative Vice President at Stand Together. More importantly for considering the legitimacy of NPU, Ms. Olson is CEO and a board member of Vela Education Foundation. As her LinkedIn page shows, Ms. Olson is an oil and gas executive. She has no background in or understanding of education. She would have been responsible for the $700,000grant Vela made in August 2020 to NPU—an eight month old organization with no track record in grants administration.

Charles Koch’s “interest” in education was discussed on the podcast “Have You Heard” by Christopher Leonard, author of the best-selling Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. Leonard described Charles Koch, like the Waltons, as an ideological libertarian. Leonard confirmed Koch’s intense anti-unionism and continued: “when you have public education … one of the biggest problems for the libertarians is that it’s funded through taxes. . . they see taxation truly as a form of of (sic) theft and robbery.” An extensive remark by Leonard is worth your careful consideration:

Know what the blueprint is. The Koch influence machine is multifaceted and complex and I am just telling you in a very honest way, there’s a huge difference between the marketing materials produced by Americans for Prosperity (Koch’s political organization, a parallel to NPU) and the behind the scenes actual politicalphilosophy. There’s a huge difference. And here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the the (sic) network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

One person who is not fooled by the Koch network’s PR machine is Charles Siler and that is because he was once part of it as a lobbyist and communications expert for the Goldwater Institute and Foundation for Government Accountability. Siler describes his former bosses: “Their ideal is a world with as minimal public infrastructure and investment as possible. They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families . . .” Siler describes one public relations technique as the “human shield.” Privatizers front a vulnerable and politically sympathetic population to protect them from progressive criticisms. They also understand that public schools are enormously popular. Thus, their proxies employ a steady drumbeat of messaging about “failing schools.” The goals are the same: destroy unions, strangle public schools, and privatizeeducation.

National Parents Union is a vehicle for the plans of the Waltons and Charles Koch. It presents as representing parents of color in search of a better life for their children, right out of the playbook Siler describes. The NPU team is drawn from alumni of the failed Families for Excellent Schools/Great Schools Massachusetts operations in New York and Massachusetts and as I explain in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization FES was in reality the surrogate for Boston hedge funders and yes, the Waltons. NPU has used the Vela money to fund homeschooling pods that weaken public schools. At nearly every media opportunity, NPU spokespersons parrot the “failing schools” script.

Is there any conceivable reason to believe that National Parents Union is the blessed exception to the Waltons’ and Charles Koch’s laser-like focus on destroying public education? As Siler and Leonard teach us, DOE must ignore the elaborate marketing blitz that NPU can deploy and recognize NPU for what it is: an agent of wealthy libertarians with a wildly different and unpopular prescription for what is good for parents and children.

I understand that the council is on hold pending litigation brought by among others Parents Defending Education. As I explained in my letter of June 28, PDE is also a franchise in Charles Koch’s attack on public education. It is in alliance with Moms for Liberty, created by the right wing directorate Council for National Policy; and with Fight for Schools and Families, also a plaintiff in the litigation and headed by a former Trump administration and Republican Party communications executive. Should PDE prevail in its lawsuit and gain a seat on the council that would give Koch two seats on it. Even Betsy DeVos would blush.

The Department of Education should rescind its offer to National Parents Union to join the National Parents and Families Engagement Council.

Respectfully submitted,

Maurice T. Cunningham

Associate Professor (retired)

Department of Political Science

University of Massachusetts at Boston

cc: The Honorable Martin J. Walsh

Secretary of Labor

You can see the writing on the wall. All the astroturf parent groups will demand a place at the table. They fought masking, they fought vaccines, now they fight teaching about racism and gender, and they demand gag orders and book banning.

Will Secretary Cardona invite them to join his Council?

Perhaps you thought the voucher fight was over in Arizona in 2018 when voters rejected vouchers by a decisive margin of 65-35%.

But no, the clear and overwhelming decision of the state’s voters did not deter the Christofascists who are determined to destroy public schools by transferring funding away from them to any form of non public schooling, be it religious, private, homeschooling or a business run by a fraudster.

Governor Doug Ducey signed a law creating a universal voucher plan on July 6. The new law will subtract $1 billion from the state’s public schools.

SOS Arizona is once again leading the fight against universal vouchers, led by Governor Ducey and championed by the Republican legislators. The dark money behind the voucher campaign comes from the usual suspects: the Koch machine and the Betsy DeVos combine.

If Save Our Schools Arizona and its supporters can secure 118,823 valid signatures before September 24, the voucher expansion law will be placed on hold until November 2024, when voters get a chance to express their views, as they did in 2018.

The stakes could not be higher – this is a referendum to decide the future of education in Arizona and across the nation.

You can see more about the SOS Arizona signature drive here: teamsosarizona.com.

Beth Lewis, the director of SOS Arizona, wrote to provide the context for the battle over vouchers:

Universal voucher expansion is the KEY issue driving right-wing politics in the US, and hardly anyone is talking about the well-moneyed, dangerous forces driving it. The AZ legislature’s myopic focus on pushing private school voucher expansion over any other piece of legislation for the past 6 years is enough to tell us that — not to mention the massive focus FOX News has placed on vouchers since the bill’s passage here in Arizona. Recently, Christopher Rufo admitted he created the CRT furor in order to advance universal vouchers.

We desperately need folks to plug in – people all over the state can get petitions at our hubs: teamsosarizona.com or sign up to volunteer: bit.ly/SVEvolunteer.

As you know, we are truly the tip of the spear when it comes to privatization. Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children is mobilizing (somewhat ineffectively) against our efforts, and the battle lines are drawn. It is evident that universal voucher expansion will become a pattern across the US, as Republican Governors are all declaring that every red state should adopt this policy. We have seen the dangers of private school vouchers first-hand here in Arizona, and our public school system has been starved in order to give credence to those who wish to privatize our public education system.

Charlie Kirk is partnering with an incredibly rightwing Evangelical church (Dream City Church) to open Turning Point Academies across Arizona. Here is the June article from Newsweek describing their plans to proliferate campuses across AZ and then the nation. It is no coincidence this plan was announced the same month the AZ state legislature passed universal vouchers.

Kirk recently spoke at Freedom Night hosted by Dream City Church, and this expose in the AZ Republic shows the hateful ideology against LGBTQ and trans youth Kirk and the Church spread. It’s terrifying – and infuriating to think this is where our taxpayer dollars are headed.

It is abundantly clear that special interests who favor extremist Christian Nationalism are driving the bus on these issues – and it makes sense. Private school vouchers are the perfect solution for building a long-term, endlessly replenishing base of voters who also favor Christian Nationalism.

We only have 42 more days to collect the signatures to put this bill on the 2024 ballot. We expect massive legal battles, as dark money will pour in and the usual suspects will challenge every signature. We are confident we will push back successfully and get the measure on the ballot – we must, as goes Arizona, so goes the nation.

You can help these fearless, intrepid volunteers by sending a contribution to: sosarizona.org/donate.

Maurice Cunningham wrote in the Tampa Bay Tribune about “Moms for Liberty.” It seems to be a Dark Money front for some familiar billionaires.

Is it Koch? DeVos? Waltons? Or another billionaire?

The New York Times brings news that is not new to anyone who reads this blog. A movement is rising to revive Christian domination of public and private life, and it is a movement fueled by racists. It is specifically opposed to the separation of church and state, and it seeks to destroy public education, ban abortion, censor teaching about race and racism, as well as gender and sexuality.

This movement was behind Trump’s election and used this irreligious man as their instrument to gain power and control of the Supreme Court.

The article begins:

Three weeks before he won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano stood beside a three-foot-tall painted eagle statue and declared the power of God.

“Any free people in the house here? Did Jesus set you free?” he asked, revving up the dozens before him on a Saturday afternoon at a Gettysburg roadside hotel.

Mr. Mastriano, a state senator, retired Army colonel and prominent figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s futile efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, was addressing a far-right conference that mixed Christian beliefs with conspiracy theories, called Patriots Arise. Instead of focusing on issues like taxes, gas prices or abortion policy, he wove a story about what he saw as the true Christian identity of the nation, and how it was time, together, for Christians to reclaim political power.

The separation of church and state was a “myth,” he said. “In November we are going to take our state back, my God will make it so.”

Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, participated in the January 6 Insurrection.

Mr. Mastriano’s ascension in Pennsylvania is perhaps the most prominent example of right-wing candidates for public office who explicitly aim to promote Christian power in America. The religious right has long supported conservative causes, but this current wave seeks more: a nation that actively prioritizes their particular set of Christian beliefs and far-right views and that more openly embraces Christianity as a bedrock identity.

Many dismiss the historic American principle of the separation of church and state. They say they do not advocate a theocracy, but argue for a foundational role for their faith in government. Their rise coincides with significant backing among like-minded grass-roots supporters, especially as some voters and politicians blend their Christian faith with election fraud conspiracy theories, QAnon ideology, gun rights and lingering anger over Covid-related restrictions.

Their presence reveals a fringe pushing into the mainstream.

“The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing the western part of Colorado, said recently at Cornerstone Christian Center, a church near Aspen. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.” Congregants rose to their feet in applause.

Some states may become inhospitable for non-Christians and for Christians who don’t believe in compelling everyone else to worship their way.

The Founding Fathers most certainly believed in separating church and state. They most certainly wanted a secular, non-religious state. They were well aware of the carnage in Europe that resulted from religious wars and persecution. This new nation was meant to be free of state-sponsored religion.

Those who now seek to obliterate the separation of church and state and to impose their religion on others are rejecting the inheritance and wisdom of the Founding Fathers.

Doug Ducey, the Governor of Arizona, has been funded by the Koch machine. One of his goals is to destroy public schools. Arizona voted vouchers down, by 65-35%. No matter. Kathryn Joyce wrote in Salon about Ducey’s latest effort to eliminate public schools, disregarding the referendum.

She writes:

Last Friday, while the country reeled from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, Arizona made history of a different sort. Legislators in the Grand Canyon State passed a universal school voucher bill that, once signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, will become the most wide-reaching school privatization plan in the country.

In his January State of the State address, Ducey called on Arizona lawmakers to send him bills that would “expand school choice any way we can,” and the Republican-dominated legislature obliged, delivering last Friday’s bill, which will open a preexisting program for Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) up to the entire state. In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers.

Ducey said the law had “set the gold standard in educational freedom” in the country, and right-wing politicians and education activists quickly agreed. Corey DeAngelis, the research director of Betsy DeVos’ school privatization lobby group American Federation for Children, declared on Twitter that Arizona “just took first place” when it comes to school choice. Anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo — the Manhattan Institute fellow who this spring called for fostering “universal public school distrust” in order to build support for “universal school choice” — tweeted, “Every red state in the country should follow [Ducey’s] lead,” since the law “gives every family a right to exit any public school that fails to educate their children or reflect their values.”

RELATED: Salon investigates: The war on public schools is being fought from Hillsdale College

From the American Enterprise Institute, education researcher Max Eden happily concluded that “Arizona now funds students, not systems,” deploying a formulation that has become common among conservative education activists, as when last week the Moms for Liberty network chastised Arizona public school advocates who opposed the bill as “system advocates” rather than “education advocates.” From Rhode Island, anti-CRT activist Nicole Solas, a fellow with the right-wing Independent Women’s Forum, tweeted, “You know what happens when you abuse people? People leave you. Bye, public school.”

And back in Arizona, the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank founded in honor of former senator and right-wing icon Barry Goldwater, celebrated the law it had done much to create as a “major victory for families wary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” plus a cost-saving measure to boot, since the total funding parents would receive through ESA vouchers is $4,000 less than Arizona’s already paltry per-pupil funding for public schools.

By contrast, Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona, as Beth Lewis, director of Save Our Schools Arizona (SOS Arizona) put it.

“The Republican universal voucher system is designed to kill public education,” tweeted former Arizona House Rep. Diego Rodriguez. “OUR nation’s greatness is built on free Public schools. The GOP goal is to recreate segregation, expand the opportunity gap, and destroy the foundation of our democracy.”

“I think it’s a very serious mistake and the result will be that, within a decade, Arizona will have a very, very poorly educated adult population,” added Carol Corbett Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. “Maybe that’s the game…”


“It’s very easy to set up a one-room shop in a strip mall, give every kid a Chromebook and a plaid skirt, tell parents they’re on an accelerated curriculum and take that $7,000,” said Lewis. But it’s equally easy for those schools to “close up shop whenever they want,” as numerous low-quality voucher schools have been known to do, leaving students stranded partway through the school year. When that happens, said Lewis, “There’s no recourse to claw those funds back.”

Unfortunately, said Carol Corbett Burris, ESA programs have already demonstrated problems with that approach, through numerous cases of fraud, in which parents used the funds for things other than their children’s education.

“It’s like an insurance company giving parents of a sick child $7,000 and saying, ‘We don’t care if you go to a physician or a dentist — take that money and do what you believe is best,” Burris continued. “Parents may know best about many things, but they’re not professional educators any more than they are doctors, dentists or nurses.”

What’s more, SOS Arizona pointed out, the ESA funds could also be used to send taxpayer funding to the sort of private school being established by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who recently announced plans to start a network of anti-“woke” Turning Point Academies, first in Arizona, then around the country. The first such school, with more than 600 students, is set to open in Glendale this fall, as the result of a partnership between Kirk and Phoenix megachurch Dream City. According to Newsweek, the academy will ban CRT, the New York Times’ “1619 Project” and what it calls “radical LGBT agendas.” Those 600-plus students, Lewis notes, will add up to some “4 million taxpayer dollars that go straight into Kirk’s academy.”

On a larger level, the new law also speeds up the same sort of death spiral that has afflicted public schools across the country, by steadily draining funds away from public education. While the immediate cost of ESA expansion — for students already outside the public school system — will draw on Arizona’s general funds, the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. ..

“I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis. “Will it happen overnight? No. But the effects will be felt quickly and the blow to public schools will be unsustainable.” If even a few kids leave a neighborhood school, the difference in funding is noticeable. If six or seven do, “that’s a whole teacher [salary] down.” In her own school, where Lewis teaches third grade, that sort of downsizing would mean the immediate increase of her class size of 27 students to more than 40. “Or do you make the cuts elsewhere? Do you cut special education, which has already been cut to the bone? Or music, arts and after-school programs, which have already been cut to the bone? Do you not have an assistant principal? Then how many students don’t get what they need?”

“We are going to stop this by any means necessary,” Lewis said, including electoral work, public education, and possibly another ballot initiative, even if that means risking the “poison pill” cancellation of the state’s newly increased public school funds. “All options are on the table.”

Read more on the right’s systematic assault on public education:

Kathryn Joyce is an investigative reporter at Salon, and the author of two books: “The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption” and “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”MORE FROM KATHRYN JOYCE



As the culture wars heat up, the number of new “parent” groups has expanded. One is called Moms for Liberty. Peter Greene explains who they are and what they want? They say they believe in parents’ rights, but they only support certain parents.

Greene writes:

As folks in Florida–the steaming petri dish in which Moms for Liberty originally grew–it’s important to remember the third founding member of the group.

“Founded in January 2021 by Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich, Moms for Liberty” is the pretty standard version of their one-line origin story. Descovitch and Justice make a fine pair of faces for the group–two moms who ran for their school boards, won once, and then once they had a track record, were rejected by voters a second time.

M4L took a few months to find their footing, aka the issues that they could use to fire folks up. They got into the game by flogging masks, but quickly circled around to “CRT” panic, ferreting out naughty books, and anti-union grievance, all under the umbrella of parental rights. They added a seasoned PR pro in Quisha King (former regional coordinator of Black Voices for Trump), and they also moved pretty quickly to mute the involvement of the third founding Mom.

That’s Bridget Ziegler. Ziegler squeaked out a victory for Sarasota School Board in 2018. Ron DeSantis thinks she’s swell. And she’s married to Christian Ziegler, who just decided not to run for re-election to a county commissioner seat because he’ll be busy helping his wife and DeSantis each run their own campaigns (that and new rules that would have made it harder for him to win). Ziegler has some other gigs as well– vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and head of his consulting firm Microtargeted Media LLC.

Christian Ziegler told the Washington Post that he has been “trying for 20- and 30-year old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me.” That was in October of 2021, when Ziegler’s involvement had gone quiet; Tim Craig at WaPo reported that Ziegler’s wife was “loosely” connected to M4L–not that she was a co-founder of this group that emerged to accomplish just what Ziegler had long searched for a tool to accomplish.

Christian Ziegler’s Microtargeted Media (“We do digital and go after people on their phones”) was a big player in the 2020 Florida race, on the ground for Trump and other GOP candidates. He pulled in $300K from a Trump-related PAC. He was once a Heritage Foundation Fellow. He’s buddies with Corey Lewandowski. He appears to be behind the Protect Wyoming Values PAC (a Trump anti-Liz Cheney proxy), Governor Kristi Noem’s election integrity website, and a bunch of other conservative Trump-backing websites. You may remember Andrew Pollack, the Parkland parent who came out against gun control and in favor of hardening the target, getting an invite to Trump’s White House among other places. How did he get such big exposure so quickly? Let Pollack explain himself:

Just days after the Parkland shooting, Christian with Microtargeted Media reached out and offered to help guide me with my communications, press relations and he launched my social media outreach channels, giving me a vital distribution channels to get my message out. Christian also helped connect me with his network of elected leaders, so that I could advocate for and eventually pass school safety legislation. This was all done pro-bono and simply because he had a passion to help.

In November of 2021 he was telling Breitbart about the shift in Florida’s GOP-Dem balance because pro-freedom conservatives were flocking to Florida out of love for the Trump-DeSantis wing of the party, damping down the Democratic majority (so, sometimes replacement is good, I guess). His critics have called him an “empty-suit candidate” backed by developers’ dark money.

All this for a guy who, in 2017 at the age of 29, was a “30 under 30 rising star of Florida politics.” In that interview he told an admittedly cool story about meeting GW Bush on a plane at age 9, and opined about the importance of integrity and honesty in politics. He particularly admired business owners turned elected officials, like Medicare fraudster Rick Scott (so, wiggle room on that integrity and honesty thing).

Point is, Bridget Ziegler is married to a well-connected guy who would like to bag some votes for GOP candidates.

Moms For Liberty is very much a GOP joint. There was a time when they tried to lay claim to bipartisnaship; not so much these days. And they’re backing is for partental rights, but Florida-style, as in all parents have rights to make choices about their children’s education as long as the choices are acceptable. Parents should not be free to choose drag queen shows or Certain Naughty Books or a school with anything carrying the faintest whiff of “CRT” Justice has said that they’re going to “take over” school boards and then fire everyone and get search firms to find new conservative leaders.

I’ve seen choice fans argue “Hey, wait a minute, I thought the idea is parents could choose what they wanted,” and no, that’s not the idea at all, and I can almost feel bad for actual school choice advocates who have hitched their wagon to people like M4L who use the same language to mean something completely opposite. Choice MAGA style means choice only for the Right People– Those Other People over there should have their preferences outlawed.

There is more. Open the link and read on.

Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist who recently retired from the University of Massachusetts. He recently published Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

When he learned that the U.S. Department of Education had included the National Parents Union on its list of parent organizations advising the Department, he wrote the following letter to Secretary Cardona:

June 28, 2022

Secretary Miguel Cardona
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Cardona,

The Department of Education has made a significant error in including the National Parents Union among the groups invited to participate in the National Parents and Families Engagement Council. NPU does not represent parents and has few if any parent organizations as members. It is a front operation for the policy preferences of wealthy individuals who wish to transform American education to meet their ideological preferences, political goals, to keep their own taxes low, and to profit off what Rupert Murdoch has termed a $500 billion market.

I am very familiar with National Parents Union. As a recently retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and the author of Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) I have been researching groups like NPU since 2015 and continue to do so.

Since NPU is related to a group I was already following named Massachusetts Parents United (the leader of both groups is Keri Rodrigues) I took note when a concept paper for the new group surfaced in April 2019, appealing to the Walton Family Foundation for funding (WFF is the primary sponsor of MPU, over $2.2 million from 2017 through 2020). The concept paper listed three goals. First, to impact the 2020 Democratic Party nominating process. Second, to support “dozens of organizations (that) are building strong pockets of parent power.” Third, “to take on the unions in the national and regional media, and eventually on the ground in advocacy fights.”

National Parents Union does not now and never has published a list of its member parent organizations. However I researched this question for my book based upon organizations NPU was claiming as participants to its January 2020 founding convention, primarily in claims made on Twitter and other social media. On its website NPU was claiming to be “a network of highly effective parent organizations and grassroots activists.” I collected seventy organizations or activists that seemed to be part of an organization. I created categories for different types of organizations and was able to categorize 64 of the 70 organizations. Only four of them even purported to represent parents. There were 15 charter school organizations and nine charter school trade organizations. There were another 15organizations I categorized as education options/choice, groups which present as helping navigate among different schools but which are designed to funnel students to charter schools. That makes 39 organizations tied in to the charter schools industry. There are nineteen organizations I identified as “civic” and some I could further identify, for instance civic/Latinx, civic/civil rights, civic/autism, etc. Within the civic groups that could be identified, there were four I categorized as civic/parents.

I was able to locate primary state locations for 53 of the 70 organizations. Of those I could place in states, there are 22 states represented plus the District of Columbia. The Massachusetts parent organization was MPU, the Walton operation. The Minnesota parent organization incorporated about the same time as NPU did. The other two parent organizations were also doubtful.

NPU’s arrival was announced in a January 2020 story in U.S. News and World Report, heralding “Two Latina mothers from opposite sides of the country” starting a parents group to “disrupt” education. One founder, Alma Marquez of California, disappeared from the organization about 8 months later. Ms. Rodrigues, known in her days as a radio host in the heavily Portuguese city of Fall River as the “pint-sized Portuguese pundit” remains.

Even with Ms. Marquez gone it is difficult to sort out NPU’s real leadership. At the January 2020 meeting Ms. Marquez was elected to a three year term as secretary-treasurer. She was a director in filings with the Massachusetts Secretary of State but left by March 2021. In March 2021 the National Parents Union website listed three board members: Peter Cunningham, Bibb Hubbard, and Dan Weisberg. But NPU registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with the Secretary of State in Massachusetts where its annual report filed November 1, 2020 showed two directors: Keri Rodrigues and Tim Langan. The Secretary filings listed Ms. Rodrigues as president and clerk and Tim Langan as treasurer (he was chief operating officer on the website). In January 2020 Gerard Robinson was also listed as a founding director, but he left a year later. Ms. Hubbard is also gone and filings with the Secretary have been updated but still do not match the website.

Of the founding directors and officers, Mr. Cunningham, Ms. Hubbard, Mr. Weisberg, Ms. Marquez, and Ms. Rodrigues all were communications professionals or had significant experience in public relations. Ms. Rodrigues, always billed as a parent activist, has been a communications professional for nearly a quarter of a century, since commencing her career with CBS Radio in 1998 while completing her 2000 BS in Broadcast, Telecommunications, and Media Management from Temple University. Since 2014 she has been executive vice president – strategy and communications for Democrats for EducationReform in Boston, state director of Families for Excellent Schools, president of the IRC 501(c)(4) Massachusetts Parent Action and 501(c)(3) Massachusetts Parents United, and president of IRC 501(c)(3) National Parents Union. Corporate records indicate that she and Mr. Langan (to whom she is engaged) are the principals of the Estrella Group LLC, a political consultant firm. Across the two state and one national organizations they paid themselves over $626,000 in 2020—an atypical income for working parents.

NPU has a page where one can “find your delegate.” Delegate suggests that someone has been chosen by others to represent them. But I cannot find where NPU explains what their delegates do and it appears that delegates are not chosen by parents (or the mostly non-existent parent organizations) but from the top down, by NPU itself. For example in Massachusetts—the corporate headquarters of NPU and MPU—when NPU wanted to find a state “delegate” it advertised for someone to become “an official Massachusetts delegate” on Twitter!* (* indicates material in Addendum).

No, National Parents Union is not about parents at all.

To understand NPU, follow the money. The Walton Family Foundation funneled $400,000 to NPU in 2020 through MPU.The Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Walton Family Foundation and the Charles Koch Institute, invested $700,000.The CEO of Vela is an oil and gas executive from Koch’s corporate holdings. Other donors include the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and The City Fund, which receives funding from the Waltons, the Hastings Fund, and the Arnold Foundation. Reed Hastings has called for the abolition of school boards. John Arnold is most well-known for his campaign to gut workers’ pension plans.

Most parents have taken tickets at the high school football game or baked goods to be sold at intermission of the school play. Not many have started a little parents’ organization that collected $1,481,110 in its first year. NPU paid out $400,461 in grants and had a payroll of $634,273. In October 2021 the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative announced a grant of $1,500,000 to support NPU—an organization that had not existed less than two years before. Also in 2021 the Silicon Valley Community Foundation donated $1,500,000 to NPU. SVCF is a donor advised fund, a pass through that protects the identity of the ultimate check writer. It’s deep dark money—the true source of the $1,500,000 will never be known. But it isn’t parents.

Small wonder then that since its inception NPU has retained the services of top conservative and Walton Family pollster Echelon Insights and the international communications firm Mercury LLC. Just like any other infant parents group.

NPU affects a different posture than recently founded “parents” operations that have attacked Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ youth. NPU purports to speak up for people of color (as did Families for Excellent Schools, which was driven by the Waltons and wealthy Wall Streeters). Scratch the surface though and NPU’s billionaire-driven agenda appears. NPU has been happy to surf on the turmoil created by right wing attack groups with its own “Disrupt the Status Quo—School Board Edition” campaign, and after the victory of Glenn Youngkin in Virginiaoffered by tweet to work with Leader Kevin McCarthy and the House Republicans on a Parents Bill of Rights. Ms. Rodrigueshas appeared at a forum organized by Betsy Devos’s American Federation for Children and just recently on a panel with Governor Youngkin’s Secretary of Education. In a Twitter exchange with a friendly journalist who was doubting the level of “School Board Chaos” being created by right wing groups, she responded “Depends on the type of chaos we are talking about.”*

That remark may help illuminate a paradox of the recently contrived “parents” movement: why is Charles Koch funding both the “progressive” NPU and the white backlash Parents Defending Education? And the answer is that both groups are designed to create chaos in the public education system. Chaos is the product.

As a “parent” group NPU is mostly distinguished by a lack of parents. It will produce polling information but as you understand interest group polling is going to show what the interest group wants you to see. NPU has had substantial media success—with the New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, and Fox—but it’s worth asking yourself: how do two moms on opposite coasts afford Mercury LLC to run communications?

DOE should be working with real parents, not billionaire directed right wing fronts masquerading as parents. If the department wishes to hear the viewpoints of the Waltons, Gates, Koch et al., heavens knows they have access to key policy makers. DOE should not permit them to sneak in the door masquerading as parents.

Sincerely,

 

Maurice T. Cunningham

 

 

Talk about cheesy! Talk about hypocrisy! Talk about weasels! Talk about betrayal of the public! Talk about disdain for democracy!

The people of Arizona voted overwhelmingly against vouchers, but the Koch-controlled GOP majority in the legislature is promoting a dramatic expansion of vouchers. Voters be damned!

To buy the support of public school parents, the legislators added a big increase in public school funding, but the new funding is available only if the vouchers are enacted.

Arizona has 1.1 million students, but only 11,775 have used vouchers to leave public schools. Now the Republicans want to fund vouchers for every student in the state. Does it matter that multiple academic studies have found that vouchers do not improve education? Of course not.

Do you think these guys know how repellent they are?

Four years after voters rejected a similar move, Republican lawmakers are pushing ahead with a plan to let any of the 1.1 million students in public schools get vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

And they are holding a plan to boost aid to public schools hostage until they get what they want.

HB 2853, approved Wednesday by the House Ways and Means Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote, would remove all restrictions on who can get what are called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Backers say this ensures that parents get to decide what is the best option for their youngsters.

That assertion was disputed by Beth Lewis, executive director of Save Our Schools.

She said that unlike public schools, private schools can pick and choose who they want to accept. Lewis said those schools, many of which are for-profit corporations, accept those who will cost them the least, meaning the highest achievers and students who do not have special needs.

Republicans said they are not ignoring the needs of public schools, voting Wednesday for HB 2854, which would increase state aid to schools by $400 million, above another $250 million additional already planned.

But there’s less there than meets the eye.

First, only half of that additional cash is permanent. And it is weighted so the districts with the most students in financial need would get more.

Beyond that, schools would have to wait until the 2023-24 school year for the one-time $200 million infusion.

And there’s something else.

House Majority Leader Ben Toma, R-Peoria, who crafted both measures, included a “poison pill” of sorts: It says that if the vouchers do not become law, the public schools don’t get any of that $400 million.

That is designed to deter the education community from doing to HB 2853 what they did to a similar voucher expansion measure approved by GOP lawmakers in 2017.

They collected sufficient signatures to put the expansion on the 2018 ballot. And voters overruled the legislation by a margin of close to 2 to 1…

And Lewis told Capitol Media Services that supporters of public education won’t be deterred, vowing to go to the ballot once again if the Republican-controlled legislature approves universal vouchers. She said while that would mean the loss of $400 million — or, really, $200 million of ongoing funds — that is nowhere near the amount that public schools need in Arizona.

She pointed out that voters in 2020 approved Proposition 208 to infuse another nearly $1 billion into public education. That was sidelined after the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the tax could not be levied because it bumped up against a constitutional limit on education spending.

Lewis, the education community and their Democratic allies are not alone in saying schools need more than HB 2854 is offering.

Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said he is holding out for an amount close to that $1 billion figure. And with only 16 Republicans in the 30-member Senate, the plan cannot get final approval without his vote.

Wednesday’s votes come as school districts won a significant legal victory, with a judge saying they are entitled to pursue claims that the legislature shorted them billions of dollars.