Monday, August 27, 2007

How are they all connected?

There are no records posted yet of campaign contributions made by Parents for Choice in Education in 2007, so I cannot tell if Rep. Brad Last received any donations from PCE's political action committee after the last report deadline in 2006. He did not receive any contributions from PCE in 2006, according to his and its report here ( But according to his campaign report, he received a donation of $250 from "Utah's Working Moms and Dads" on September 22.

"Utah's Working Moms and Dads" has no website but an organization called "" says UWMAD is a 527 committee that was created on January 3, 2006. The only contact person for the group is Rodney W. Rivers, and its legal address is P.O. Box 123 in Provo. ( Google says that "Rodney W. Rivers" is a real estate lawyer ( licensed to do real estate work here ( for the law firm of Jeffs and Jeffs, also in Provo.

The only other reference I could find on the internet to UWMAD was here (, where it says that "Parents for Choice's biggest donors are a Virginia-based group called All Children Matter; Patrick Byrne, CEO of; and Rick Koerber, a private-school investor who oversees a number of companies under the Utah County umbrella group FranklinSquires. Byrne and the Koerber group also finance Utah's Working Moms and Dads, a political action committee that backs school-choice candidates."

Last week, I found that the second- and third-largest individual contributors to PCE in 2006 were Mr. Byrne ($50,000) and Mr. Koerber (at least $30,000). So it makes sense, if they also run UWMAD, knowing that UWMAD gave a $250 contribution to Rep. Last's campaign.

If all of this is accurate, then it could be said that a contribution of $250 to Rep. Brad Last set in motion the chain of events making Utah the accidental front for a nationwide battle on universal school vouchers, giving All Children Matter of Michigan the best (and maybe the cheapest) victory it has won in any state yet. It looks like the only thing standing in ACM's way in Utah is the November 6 ballot.

Rep. Last seemed to understand in February that his vote was the one-vote margin that passed House Bill 148, the voucher plan, and what his vote would mean to Utahns for the rest of 2007. KSL quoted Rep. Last saying, "To every single one of you who wants to lynch me right now, I say don't talk to me until you read this bill, and don't talk to me until you do."

In that article on April 12, KSL's John Daley dug into ACM's activity here (

The controversy over Utah's school voucher program has generated a lot of public and private debate. Now, Eyewitness News has discovered that some heavy hitters with big checkbooks are making sure their side of the issue is heard. We followed a money trail that led to the likes of Wal-mart, Amway, and others. We followed the money, looked at contribution filings and found there was plenty of campaign cash on both sides of the voucher debate. Money on the pro-voucher side was in much bigger sums, half of it coming from out of state. A big push is on to repeal, via referendum, the law creating a groundbreaking $3,000 per child school voucher program, which passed by one vote in this year's most dramatic Capitol Hill battle.

The fight pitted two political powerhouses and top five Utah campaign contributors, pro-voucher group Parents for Choice in Education and the Utah Education Association, the teacher's union. That campaign money translated into remarkable loyalty. In the Senate every lawmaker who got money from the pro-voucher group voted for the key bill creating vouchers. Those getting UEA money all voted against.

In the House there was a similar show of loyalty to the side that gave the money -- 96 percent who got money from the pro-voucher group voted for and 78 percent who got money from the other side voted against. Karen Hale, a former Democratic lawmaker said, "Yeah I think we can connect the dots when we see that money coming in and seeing what happened in the vote in the legislature."

Pro-public school money generally went to Democrats. Pro-voucher donations generally went to Republicans, including GOP House Speaker Greg Curtis, who by many accounts used his considerable clout to pressure some members to vote Yes. In several stories we've done on the influence of campaign money on House votes, Speaker Curtis has declined our request for an interview. He did so on this story, too.

The biggest financial force in the voucher fight is a national pro-voucher organization called All Children Matter, based in Michigan. Its funders include the son of a former Amway billionaire and an heir to the Wal-mart fortune. The political action committee for Parents for Choice in Education took in half a million dollars last year; half came from out-of-state, $240,000 from All Children Matter. Sen. Pat Jones said, "Why should well funded people out of state care about Utah's school system? What is in it for them?"

We found most of those opening their wallets have a philosophical stake in the issue, including Patrick Byrne, founder and CEO of, who gave Parents for Choice $80,000 last year. Byrne, a self-described libertarian, says education would be better with more competition, which he says unions and Democrats oppose.

With a referendum vote looming, the two sides continue to debate the impact of money. Pat Rusk the former UEA president said, "The difference to me is that we have a lot of teachers giving five or six dollars versus five or six people giving a lot of money.'s Patrick Byrne gave plenty of money in the last governor's race too -- $75,000 to the campaign of Governor Jon Huntsman, who ultimately signed the school voucher legislation. His office told KSL that campaign contributions had no influence on his decision.

Our calls to All Children Matter, the pro-voucher group in Michigan, were not returned.

Two days later, Brock Vergakis of the Associated Press filed a similar report. In it, he, too, explained that Utah was a test case in a nationwide voucher campaign, and that "voucher proponents [would] use Utah's new school voucher program as an example to get legislation passed elsewhere. That is exactly what national voucher groups and their donors had in mind when Utah and its conservative Legislature were targeted with more than $500,000 in campaign donations last year."

Mr. Byrne told Mr. Vergakis, "This is the camel's nose under the tent. If it takes hold here and proceeds here it will have a demonstrative effect that no other states can afford to ignore."

Mr. Vergakis goes on:

Byrne is Parents for Choice in Education's largest donor from Utah. Nearly half the money the group spent on legislative campaigns came from a political action committee called All Children Matter based out of Alexandria, Va., that has its headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. All Children Matter donated $240,000 to Parents for Choice in Education in 2006 and about $250,000 during the 2004 campaign cycle, finance reports in Utah show.

Utah was one of 10 states that All Children Matter has targeted to affect state elections, spending about $8 million nationwide in the 2003-04 election cycle. It is an organization dedicated to supporting candidates who favor charter schools and voucher programs. It's largely financed by heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune and the founders of Amway, according to finance reports in Virginia. In 2004, Jim Walton and John Walton, children of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, each donated more than $3 million to All Children Matter, the reports showed. In 2006, the estate of John Walton donated another $4.1 million, the reports showed.

"It's certainly not a grass-roots operation. These are heavy hitters," said Rich Robinson, director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending.

Another large donor to All Children Matter is the DeVos family, which founded Amway, a household and nutritional products company, campaign finance reports show. Dick DeVos is a former CEO of the company and a failed candidate for governor of Michigan. He's advocated creating school voucher programs for years and led a ballot initiative that would have allowed vouchers, which was defeated by voters there.

Between 1999 and 2005, DeVos and his relatives spent more than $7 million funding voucher political action committees, including more than $430,000 to All Children Matter, according to records kept by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Messages left by The Associated Press for DeVos, All Children Matter Executive Director Greg Brock and at Wal-Mart headquarters were not returned.

A spokeswoman for PCE told Mr. Vergakis that PCE was "David" against the Utah Education Association, a "Goliath" because it has spent more money opposing vouchers and supporting public schools. But Mr. Vergakis discovered that while "all the UEA's political contributions came from individual donors from Utah and most of those were for less than $100," the same wasn't true for PCE. "In the past five years, the UEA has spent about $1 million in campaign expenditures. Parents for Choice in Education has spent about $900,000," he wrote.

Marilyn Kofford, education commissioner for the Utah Parent Teacher Association, said getting the law repealed will be a tough battle and also compares the struggle to that of David and Goliath, the Bible's Philistine giant killed by a rock from David's slingshot.

"We fought it for 10 years, and we were successful for 10 years. Then they brought in their big money and helped some of the legislators win," she said. "We are not wealthy people. We are basic, good middle-of-the-road citizens. Somewhere we're going to have to find the resources, but there's no way we will ever raise as much as they do. They will probably outspend us 10-to-1, big time."

The discovery of ACM's deep investment in Utah vouchers led "Marshall" at the Wasatch Watcher ( to write, "Welcome to Democracy in Utah, brought to you by out of state money from Wal-Mart and Amway that don't care that your voice is heard because they need to set a precedent."

This guy gave more money than I make in an entire year so his pet cause could be shoved down our throats. This is exactly the kind of choice people like Patrick Byrne want for our Democracy and our schools, where those that have the dough have the choice while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.

But Utah isn't the only place where ACM is pouring huge amounts of voucher money, I learned. Beside Texas, which I mentioned last night, they also have operations in Missouri, Ohio and South Carolina.


Curtis said...

Quite impressive research. It looks like you have done your homework!

If you are interested, I have done research into funding sources, candidate by candidate PCE has given to candidates. It looks like you have gone further in depth than I have, but I would be happy to share what data I do have.

Referendum One said...

It started out that I wanted to know more about the issue, which led to wanting to understand this referendum specifically. But after just a couple of days of looking for information, and finding so much more about the money behind it, I've decided you can't understand either the issue or this referendum without understanding who is sending so much money into Utah and why. I'm glad I started looking.

The homework really isn't difficult because a lot of what these people have done in on the internet. It just takes time to search the names on google and fit the pieces together.

Yes, I would like to see the research you've done. Email me at accountabilityfirst at gmail dot com.

Anonymous said...

Patrick Byrne is famous for mismanaging his company and villifying his critics. See

For Byrne, political causes are a fig leaf for his primary cause, which is making money at the expense of his shareholders. Byrne does not have children, and if he did they would not be attending public schools. He is not even married. He is the son of the chairman of GEICO and has never had to work a day in his life. What does a lifelong bachelor know about education?

Anonymous said...

The link in the previous post was chopped off by Blogspot. To see what I am referring to, go to and then click on the Patrick Byrne label in any recent story.

His director of communications stalks Byrne's critics, so I am surprised opponents of his phony educational "initiative" haven't gotten "the treatment."