Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who are the parents?

Yesterday, following up on a suggestion by a letter-writer to the Trib, I started looking for information on who was behind both sides of the voucher referendum. I'd already made a list of the Utah voters and groups that are part of Utahns for Public Schools, but I ran into a brick wall when trying to find out who makes up Parents for Choice in Education. But PCE has a political action committee and a political issues committee, and a foundation on top of that, so some of their donors are on record with the Lt. Governor's office.

And that office posts a lot of its information in the Utah Reporting System's website, You only have to look for the name of the PAC, or the PIC, and tell it what year's records to look for. I chose to look at the most recent full year's reporting period -- which is 2006, so there's no clear note of who or how much has been contributed or spent in 2007 -- and here's what I found.

Between March and June of last year, PCE's PAC collected $100,000 in two installments from an organization called All Children Matter, whose legal address is in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The next largest single contributor is Patrick Byrne, who gave $50,000 to PCE in three installments between January and July.

PCE co-founder Doug Holmes of Farmington gave $20,000, which would make him the third largest contributor, except that several different companies founded by Rick Koerber of Springville, companies that share the address of one corporate building in Provo, and one business associate of Mr. Koerber's, each gave $5,000 on the same day. It's clear that the companies are Mr. Koerber's companies because he lists them on his own personal and business website. So the contributions that were given on September 12 last year by Mr. Koerber himself, Founders Capital LLC, Hill Erickson LLC, Franklin Squires Investments, McGuire Group LLC and New Castle Holdings, total $30,000, making him the third largest single contributor. If you count the $5,000 given on the same date by Gabriel Joseph, a broadcaster who hosts Mr. Koerber's radio program, it brings the total of contributions made or influenced by Mr. Koerber on September 12 to $35,000.

I'd never heard of Mr. Koerber before looking at his website, but I learned that he's "a highly sought after motivational speaker and business consultant. He has worked with, represented, and held key positions in companies such as FranklinCovey, Toshiba America Business Solutions, Carleton Sheets Personal Coaching, and IKON Office Solutions." And that he and his wife have two children.

When I counted up all the remaining contributions to PCE's political action committee last year, in amounts from $5,000 to $50, the total came to under $44,000. But the top four entities who contributed -- ACM of Michigan, Patrick Byrne of Park City, Rick Koerber of Springville and Doug Holmes of Farmington -- gave (or directly influenced the contribution of) $195,000. That's a huge percentage of the whole.

What concerns me is that the organization's name is Parents for Choice in Education. On a lark, I googled to find out, if I could, how many parents and children they include. ACM is an organization, so technically it's not a parent, and it isn't a Utah organization anyway. I couldn't find out if Mr. Byrne has children; there are a lot of references to him on the internet because he owns and because his father was the CEO of Geico Insurance at one time, but I couldn't find anything saying that he has children. But I learned that Mr. Koerber and his wife have two children, and that Mr. Holmes and his wife have six children. So two of the four largest contributors to Parents for Choice in Education are actually parents.

I google-searched ACM to find out more about them, and I found out that Paul Rolly of the Trib has already written about them. In December 2004, he reported, "Three Utah political action committees -- married by one issue -- were financed generously by All Children Matter (ACM), based in Alexandria, Va. In fact, ACM's $ 252,000 combined with $ 50,000 from's Patrick Byrne accounted for 86 percent of the $ 355,000 taken in by Parents for Choice in Education, the main Utah advocate for tuition tax credits for parents who enroll their children in private schools."

"The principals and major local contributors to Parents for Choice in Education overlap considerably with those involved with Education Excellence and Children First, which also promote tuition tax credits."

"The thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to pro-tax-credit candidates from Parents for Choice in Education and its sister groups have come largely from All Children Matter, whose own donor list is an exclusive group," he wrote.

Doing his own research, Rolly found out a lot of names behind Dick and Betsy DeVos, the Amway leaders who run ACM. He learned that PCE collected almost $1 million in the first six months of 2004 "from just 13 donors." They included "Caxton Corp.'s Bruce Kovner, 'a leader in the Manhattan Institute think tank (and) a frequent source of pro-voucher research'; Club for Growth founders Richard Gilder and National Review President Thomas 'Dusty' Rhodes; [and] Wal-Mart heir John Walton."

"Another member of the little club with the big stick is Ohio for-profit school operator David Brennan, "who has been eyeing new states to expand his charter school and online school operations. Brennan hails from the same state as Majority Strategies, based in Columbus, which enjoyed $ 38,000 in contracts to print direct mailers for Parents for Choice in Education, and Lovette Peters of Cincinnati, a $ 20,000 donor to Parents for Choice in Education."

"The local contributors of Parents for Choice in Education, Education Excellence and Children First also are an exclusive club whose boosters include Jordan Clements, Royce Van Tassell, Doug Holmes, Elisa Clements Peterson, who is Clements' daughter and is paid about $50,000 a year as Parents for Choice in Education's executive director, and a small cluster of neighbors in and around Farmington. Parents for Choice, it seems, doesn't involve very many parents. Only 12 people were counted as $ 50-or-less contributors. Their contributions totaled $290."

It sounds like Rolly found a similar ratio of giving in 2004 to the one represented in PCE's reporting in 2006.

It's a start, but it still doesn't explain who's behind PCE in Utah, or why so many wealthy people far from the Wasatch Front have an interest in creating a universal voucher system in Utah. Is it profit? If so, whose profit? And if their interest isn't profit, what is it? And why Utah?

1 comment:

andbrooke said...

You do find the same people everywhere you look in the pro-voucher movement. They have the same basic belief: that public education has failed and privatization is the only solution. This is an extreme statement, and particularly out of place in Utah.

I find it hard to believe that choice (in the Libertarian sense) is their underlying motivation. Even if that's what they say, it isn't what they do. PCE in Utah seems very content to overlook people's choice to sign the referendum and their choice to continue supporting public ed. I think if the referendum is successful PCE will just keep going under the banner, "You have a choice! We will make sure the right one is made for you!"