I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Reformy Campaign Finance Machine Goes To Georgia

Last spring, I happened - by sheer luck - to come across an unannounced, coordinated campaign finance machine, put together to support reformy candidates in school board and state-level races across the country. This machine distributed more than one-quarter million dollars to small, obscure races that had never seen this level of campaign finance before:
Jusidiction
Candidate
Greg Penner
Lydia Callaghan
Arthur Rock
Dave Goldberg
Sheryl Sandberg
Alan Fournier
Jennifer Fournier
Kent Thiry
TOTALS
Better Schools Now!
$8,000
$8,000
$8,000
$8,000
$10,400
$10,400
$10,400
$63,200
Tobias Read
$5,000
$5,000
$5,000
$6,000
$2,500
$2,500
$26,000
Kerr, Newell, Pettersen, Rodosevich, Hamner, Lee, Young, Hodge
$3,175
$3,175
$3,175
$2,775
$2,780
$2,375
$2,375
$19,830
Jeffrey Klein
$2,000
$2,000
$2,000
$1,000
$1,000

$8,000
Alexis Gonzales-Black
$2,000
$2,000
$7,500
$1,000
$10,000
$1,000
$1,000
$5,000
$29,500
Allison Serafin
$2,000
$2,000
$5,000
$3,500
$5,000
$1,000
$1,000
$5,000
$24,500
Caitlin Hannon
$5,000
$5,000
$5,000
$1,000
$2,000
$3,000
$21,000
Mary Ann Sullivan and Tim DeLaney
$10,000
$10,000
$10,000
$2,000
$2,000
$34,000
Sarah Usdin
$2,500
$2,500
$2,500
$2,500
$2,500
$1,100
$1,100
$2,500
$17,200
Ryan Jolley
$3,000
$3,000
$3,000
$1,000
$700

$10,700
Joe Coto
$3,000
$3,000
$3,000
$1,600

$10,600
Contribution Totals
$45,675
$45,675
$54,175
$24,375
$29,980
$20,375
$18,375
$25,900


Total Reformy Machine Contributions: $264,530.
It's astonishing when you look at it: $63,200 for a school board race in little Perth Amboy, NJ - all to save an unpopular but tenure-hating superintendent (who has since been booted by the current board). $54,000 for a state school board race in Nevada. Who throws around this kind of money for these kinds of races? More importantly: who has coordinated this giving?

I'm proud to say this story was picked up by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, and is included in Diane Ravitch's New York Times bestseller, Reign of Error (p.310). But this tale of reformy campign finance is hardly finished...

Thanks to a tip from a reader, we now know the Reformy Campaign Finance Machine has started up its engines once again: this time, in the Atlanta school board race.

Here are the numbers so far, with links to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission:
Arthur Rock (San Francisco, CA):
  • Courtney Dean English: $2,500
  • Matt Westmoreland: $2,500
Dave Goldberg (Atherton, CA):
  • Jason Esteves: $500
Greg Penner (Atherton, CA):
  • Jason Esteves: $1,000
  • Courtney Dean English: $2,000
Kent Thiry (Cherry Hills, CO):
  • Eshe' Collins: $500
(Dean English also brought in $2,500 from Joel Klein, and $500 from Whitney Tilson. Just thought you'd like to know.)

So why is the Reformy Machine backing these four candidates? What do they have in common?

I'll bet many of you have already guessed (h/t Diane Ravitch):

It is likely no coincidence that four candidates for Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Board of Education (BOE) are alumni of Teach for America (TFA), including three newcomers and one incumbent who himself is fairly new to the Board.  In fact, TFA has been pushing its alumni to run for office since at least 2008, in order to promote the organization’s apparent pro-privatization agenda.

Criticism of TFA has ramped up in recent years.  Last month, in July 2013, a national progressive educational policy reform conference, Free Minds, Free People, held in Chicago, Illinois, included a panel that is believed to be the first-ever national gathering in opposition to TFA.  The panel, attended by about one hundred activists, was called Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization.

Incumbent Courtney English (at-large Seat 7) is a TFA alum.  So is Matt Westmoreland, who is running unopposed for the District 3 seat being vacated by Cecily Harsch-Kinnane.  
 
Uh, could someone explain to me why Arthur Rock, a California venture capitalist, is giving $2,500 to a TFAer running for a school board seat thousands of miles away in an unopposed race?

So is Eshe Collins, who is running for the District 6 seat being vacated by Yolanda Johnson; as well as Jason Esteves, who is running for the at-large Seat 9 being vacated by Emmett Johnson.  However, neither Collins nor Esteves mention TFA in their extensive campaign biographies which appear on their respective websites. [emphasis mine].
Golly, I wonder why...

In 2008, TFA spun off an organization called Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE).  In addition to helping launch TFA alumni into positions of elected office, LEE also helps communities form their own organizations to address education policy issues.
[...]
LEE is not very transparent; the vast majority of its website, for example, is restricted to members only.
 
TFA is perceived as a major player in the education wars over the future of public schools, and a key ally of those who disparage teacher unions and schools of education, and who are enamored of entrepreneurial reforms that bolster the privatization of a once-sacred public responsibility,” Barbara Miner wrote in a 2010 article for Rethinking Schools.
Does anyone think it's just a happy coincidence that these four TFA candidates just happen to be financed by this same group of plutocrats who've dropped money into school board races all over the country?

Someone is bundling a lot of money, gathered from a select group of wealthy political donors, and passing it out to reformy candidates in obscure races across the nation. Who?

America's fastest growing POLITICAL organization.

4 comments:

Tracy Novick said...

I take it these states either don't have a limit on individual contributions, or if they do, it's a high one?

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Tamara Jones said...

This was just covered by the Atlanta Journal Constitution: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-education/school-choice-advocates-bring-in-cash-to-atlanta-s/nbXx5/?icmp=ajc_internallink_invitationbox_apr2013_ajcstub1
It's behind a pay wall, but worth a 99 cent read.

alm said...

No giant bundling conspiracy - just people staying informed about local races of concern (much in the same way that Ravich covered the Atlanta race on her blog...)

From Whitney Tilson's mailing list on 8/26:

"5) Speaking of the Atlanta School Board, in addition to Courtney English (whom I blogged about here), I’m also asking you to support Mark Riley...(I just donated $100 at www.MarkRileyForSchoolBoard.com):"