Monday, August 27, 2007

What did they do in Missouri?

As much as the Trib and KSL -- and several bloggers and readers commenting on articles online -- have written about the money coming from All Children Matter in Michigan to PCE in Salt Lake City, the media and bloggers in some other states have been digging a good deal too.

In Missouri, bloggers report that the governor, Matt Blunt, was apparently elected by a razor-thin margin after ACM spent $200,000 against his opponent in 2004, and the governor returned the favor to ACM by hiring its treasurer, Ed Martin, to be his chief of staff. When Blunt tried to appoint someone approved by ACM to the state board of education, she was opposed by too many lawmakers and her appointment was dropped. In June, with the legislature out of session, Blunt reportedly appointed a man who ran for State Senate with ACM funding, but lost. In his effort to change public education in that state, the governor has the aid of a high-dollar contributor named Rex Sinquefield, who is the executive director of an "institute" that produces policy studies supporting vouchers.

These are the parts that caught my attention. A lot of money flowed from ACM in Michigan into another state to get pro-voucher candidates elected. In that state, ACM has the help of an "institute" that turns out policy studies supporting vouchers. And ACM has the help of at least one very wealthy in-state contributor who's willing to spend a lot of his money and to organize a few other wealthy spenders too.

On June 11, a Missouri blog called the Turner Report wrote (

Some were surprised when Governor Matt Blunt appointed former State Rep. Derio Gambaro, D-St. Louis, who has an extensive background as an educational voucher supporter to the State Board of Education, after Blunt's failure to seat Donayle Whitmore-Smith on the board last year. A bigger surprise would have been if he had appointed someone who did not support vouchers. The Turner Report has noted numerous times that the out-of-state voucher group All Children Matter pumped nearly $200,000 into attack advertising against Blunt's Democratic opponent State Auditor Claire McCaskill in 2004. Most of that came in the waning days of the race and likely provided Blunt with the razor-thin margin by which he became governor.

But it is not just All Children Matter that is pushing to force Missouri into becoming one of a handful of states that allows educational vouchers. Blunt's first quarter disclosure form, filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, shows that the governor's three biggest contributors are all voucher supporters or school choice supporters if you go with that euphemism.

Rex Sinquefield has strong connections with both Blunt and Gambaro. Ethics Commission documents show Sinquefield, the head of the conservative Show-Me Institute, contributed $100,000 to Blunt on March 14. The Show-Me Institute is one of the leading advocates for vouchers. Sinquefield has funded studies to prove vouchers would be the route to go for Missouri. In 2006, Sinquefield virtually bankrolled Gambaro's unsuccessful candidacy for the state senate seat eventually won by Gambaro's Democratic primary opponent Jeff Smith.

Though a contribution limit of $675 was in effect at that time, Sinquefield contributed $20,700 into Gambaro's account during its final quarter, by placing $6,500 donations into three committee accounts, which then turned the money over to Gambaro. No pretense was made otherwise, since those were the only contributions those commttees received during that time period. Sinquefield and his wife each chipped in with $600 directly to Gambaro to account for the other $1,200.

But Sinquefield's $100,000 contribution in March was not the only one of that amount received by Blunt, according to the Ethics Commission documents. He also received $100,000 from EthelMae Humphreys and David Humphreys, the mother and son who are in charge of TAMKO in Joplin. Mrs. Humphreys sits on the board of directors of two powerful pro-voucher groups, the CATO Institute and Sinquefield's Show-Me Institute.

If the $300,000 Blunt received from the Humphreys and Sinquefield wasn't enough, the governor also received a $25,000 donation from the CNS Corporation, run by millionaire Charles Norval Sharpe, who runs the Heartland Academy, a private school, and has long been a backer of pouring public money into private schools.

A school choice effort failed in the legislature this year by a 96-62 vote, with only Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, joining the majority from the Joplin area. That doesn't mean it won't make it through in 2008. Voucher proponents have money and have absolutely no problem spending it. And now, at least until January, they have another backer on the State Board of Education.

Three days later, the same blog reported here ( that a local newspaper had picked up on ACM's activity in Missouri:

The St. Louis American places the credit (or blame) for Governor Matt Blunt's appointment of voucher supporter Derio Gambaro to the State Board of Education with Blunt's chief of staff Ed Martin. Martin was formerly the treasurer for All Children Matter, the pro-voucher group which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Missouri elections.

Speaking of progressives and "Mr. Gambaro’s educational philosophy and qualifications," the Missouri Citizen Education Fund reports that Gambaro received $600 in direct contributions from All Children Matter for his failed state Senate bid and that All Children Matter also spent $7,577.12 in independent expenditures on his behalf. All Children Matter is a school choice advocacy organization; Martin previously served as its treasurer.

What is left out of the St. Louis American article is that the money that can be specifically linked to All Children Matter is far from being the only cash poured into Gambaro's unsuccessful state senate campaign by voucher supporters. One of All Children Matter's top contributors, Rex Sinquefield of the Show-Me Institute, managed to legally launder all kinds of money into the Gambaro campaign by donating it to campaign committees, which earmarked it for Gambaro.

The similarities between ACM's activity in Utah and Missouri are striking.

Missouri has the Show Me Institute, turning out pro-voucher policy literature on behalf of ACM and its operation in Missouri. We have the Sutherland Institute, which does the same thing.

Missouri's lawmakers accepted a lot of contributions from ACM for their campaigns for election or re-election, and the ones who won their races introduced legislation to create vouchers in Missouri. The same thing happened in Utah, except that in Utah, House Bill 148 passed. In Missouri, it never got out of the legislature.

Missouri has Rex Sinquefield, a wealthy man who has a relationship with ACM and who spends a lot of his own money promoting vouchers in that state. We have Patrick Byrne.

Sinquefield gets a lot of attention in Missouri because of his wealth. The Columbia Tribune wrote last month (,

Businessman and Show Me Institute President Rex Sinquefield was a noticeable player in the last two campaign finance quarters.

The rush of campaign finance reports have come and gone, but one of the constant players in the mix is Show Me Institute President Rex Sinquefield. The co-founder of Dimensional Fund Advisors has caused a stir during the last two fundraising quarters. He donated $100,000 to Gov. Matt Blunt’s campaign in the April period and this time around provided funds to a hodgepodge of state lawmakers from both political parties.

Sinquefield says that he is “issue-oriented” and doesn’t necessarily give contributions based on political party. The “school choice” movement — which incorporates using tax credits, vouchers or other fiduciary means to send children to private schools — is especially important to him. "School choice" entities have at times been controversial, especially groups such All Children Matter that pour money directly and indirectly into campaigns.

And for anyone willing to untangle a knot of staffers shared by ACM and the Alliance for School Choice in Phoenix, the Turner Report gives us an indepth explanation (

It explains that Missouri's former House Speaker Pro Tem, Carl Bearden, recently left office to work for a brand-new lobbying firm called Pelopidas that now lobbies for vouchers.

Over a two-day period in April, lobbyist Travis Brown spent $2,872 entertaining and wining and dining some of the top pro-voucher politicians in the state of Missouri, including Governor Matt Blunt's chief of staff Ed Martin, Speaker Pro Tem (at the time) Carl Bearden, and St. Louis Democrats Theodore Hoskins and Rodney Hubbard.

On Sunday, April 15, all of the politicians received $164 in entertainment from Brown - the price of two tickets to the Cardinals' party suites.

All of the gifts came courtesy of the recently-created Missourians for a Better Economy. As I noted in the July 13 Turner Report, despite a lengthy list of clients, during March, April, and May, Brown appeared to be doing most of his lobbying for Missourians for a Better Economy and the Brown Lobby Firm, and from all appearances, both are operated by Brown.

Things became a bit more clear last week when it was announced that Bearden was leaving the House to work with Brown at Pelopidas LLC, a firm which will advocate for issues, with the issue at the top of the list being educational vouchers. On the same day that Brown filed paperwork with the Missouri Ethics Commission to represent Pelopidas, he also officially became the lobbyist for retired billionaire Rex Sinquefield, the principal force behind the Show-Me Institute, which has made vouchers its top priority.

In addition to Brown and Bearden, Pelopidas will be led by Brown's wife, lobbyist Rachel Keller Brown, whose sole client is Advocates for School Choice, a Phoenix, Ariz., organization that does exactly what its name says. Advocates for School Choice is the lobbying arm of the Alliance for School Choice, also based in Phoenix. Before becoming Governor Blunt's chief of staff, Ed Martin was Missouri coordinator for the Alliance for School Choice, as well as being treasurer for the voucher-supporting All Children Matter.

The odd combination of Democrats and Republicans that Brown has been wining and dining over the past few months, has almost exclusively been politicians who have favored educational vouchers and efforts to fund scholarships for students to attend private schools.

With the forming of Pelopidas, the growing effort by people such as David Humphreys and Ethelmae Humphreys of TAMKO, Charles Norval Sharpe of CNS Corporation, All Children Matter, and Sinquefield, who appear willing to pay whatever amount it takes to make educational vouchers a reality in Missouri, public schools are in for a battle in 2008.

Willing to pay whatever amount it takes to make vouchers a reality. And public schools are in for a battle. That sounds familiar too.