Friday, September 21, 2007

Could Sinquefield be a secret PCE donor?

I was glad to see former Governor Olene Walker honored by Brigham Young University this week. She's still well-respected by a lot of people -- how many politicians earn an 87 percent approval rating, ever? -- and she deserved the honor. And I was also glad to read some of her comments at the BYU event in this morning's DesNews -- which gave good coverage to some parts of the voucher referendum issue in today's edition. The opening note by reporter Tad Walch told the story, I thought:

PROVO — Former Gov. Olene Walker doesn't want to be at the forefront of the election fight over school vouchers, but her thoughts on one element of the issue were crystal clear Thursday when she spoke at Brigham Young University as an honored alumnus.

"I think it's ironic the Legislature demands ever-increasing accountability of public schools but is willing to give the largest entitlement in the state to individuals without any accountability," she said.

Governor Walker, I've thought the same thing. In the spirit of fairness, I continue searching with an open mind for objective facts that would lead voters to support House Bill 148, the voucher plan on the November ballot, but it's slow going, and difficult. Rhetoric and ideology are available everywhere, but the folks promoting the voucher plan have made it a point to hide objective facts and keep them a secret until after November 6.

The DesNews also gave us another great example of that point this morning. Reporter Tiffany Erickson wrote, "The Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office says it will ask the Attorney General's Office to investigate an anonymous pro-voucher group that could be skirting election laws.

Officials in Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert's office said Wednesday they plan to file an investigation request with the Attorney General's Office today in regard to an entity that has failed to file a political issues committee report, which is a requirement under state law."

Those campaign reports were due on Monday -- I know, because I spent a good bit of time this week studying them on my screen. If someone knows enough to put together some political radio advertisements, it's a good bet they know enough to file their campaign reports on time, under the law. But that didn't happen in this case, Ms. Erickson explains here (,5143,695211709,00.html).

Joe Demma, spokesman for the Lieutenant Governor's Office, said that more than a month ago they received an inquiry from an advertising agency that was doing work for an anonymous pro-voucher individual, or group, on a Web site and for radio ads.

"We determined that this person was not acting on his own but was potentially part of group of people," Demma said. "Under law when more than one person engages in helping fund an effort, that person now becomes a group of people, and a group of people under the law has to file as a political issues committee."

He said the determination that the group should file as a PIC was based on the fact that the Web site was soliciting money by saying, "Please donate to the cause, every dime that you donate will go to supporting vouchers." So this anonymous person or group is soliciting and potentially receiving money, Demma said.

But if that is indeed the case, Demma said they are puzzled as to why the group would refuse to file a report.

"That's not a hard thing to do and generally not a big deal so we just were surprised that the entity refused to comply with state law — the reports were due Monday at 5 p.m., and we have yet to receive paperwork from that group — we don't know if that is what they are, but the evidence suggests it potentially could be," Demma said.

Under state law it's a class B misdemeanor to miss the filing deadline, but Demma said historically if groups are a few days late his office would just send them a letter saying deadlines in the future must be met.

"If they continue to disregard official notice from the Lieutenant Governor's Office, that steps up the penalties, and the AG's office would have to take it from there," Demma said. "But we aren't being that dramatic right now, we're just going to file it and tell (the attorney general) there's enough evidence here that we think they potentially needed to (file.)"

I think the most important part of the story was Mr. Demma's conclusion that those behind the voucher ads are "a group of people." And from their perspective, Utahns don't have the right to know who they are.

Here's my own question -- not a conclusion, but a question: Is the group of people that Mr. Demma believes created these voucher ads, then aired them, then didn't file their campaign reports as the law requires, the same group of people who has contributed $358,000 through a corporation and a foundation, in order to avoid having to explain who they are, to pay for the activities of Parents for Choice in Education's political action committee?

I have another question. Since the donors are a secret, I guess it's safe to wonder who they might be. It's probably safe to assume they have a lot of money and they're willing to spend it to promote vouchers, and maybe it's safe to assume they have a vested interest in getting the voucher plan passed in Utah so it'll help them get one passed somewhere else.

At least some of Patrick Byrne's support isn't a secret. He gives a lot of money -- tens of thousands of dollars at a time -- to almost anyone who's capable of helping to get vouchers passed in Utah. But since he lives in Utah, I doubt think he's part of the $358,000 donor list. I wonder if it's specifically people in other states, whose work there would be hurt if it came out in public that they were pushing the voucher plan here.

I wonder all of this because a blogger in Missouri has been writing about something going on there, related to vouchers, related to a pro-voucher "institute," related to one super-wealthy pro-voucher donor, and related to All Children Matter of Michigan. Here are parts of a post in Missouri from last week, but the whole post can be found here (;jsessionid=5BB703475CE2670771023FCC1C93D066?diaryId=158):

The motto of school voucher advocates in Missouri must be, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again, because big money donors to state legislators who favor vouchers have already given more campaign contributions--fourteen months before the elections!--than they did in 2004 and 2006.

In 2004, $385,340 was donated. Last year, even though it was an off year election, contributions went up; pro-voucher candidates received $403,840. So far in this election cycle, $483,850 has already been given. Of course, a major reason the contributions are so high this cycle is that between January and June there were no caps on contributions.

Indeed, now that the Supreme Court has put the kibosh on that travesty, Jay Nixon is returning all his over-the-limit contributions. But the big honcho in the pro-voucher camp, Rex Sinquefield, filed a legal argument with the Supreme Court asking that none of his donations be returned to him. His brief, almost but not quite, said: I bought 'em fair and square. Okay, what he actually said was that his political groups gave money early in the cycle because that's when it helps the most, and he doesn't want it back. For whatever that argument is worth.

Which brings us to Sinquefield's two groups: All Children Matter and the infamous Show Me Institute.

All Children Matter exists in only ten states, and we're among the lucky ones to be targeted. Most of the money for it comes from out-of-state, with less than a third coming from actual Missourians. Make that Missourian, singular, as in Rex Sinquefield. Ninety-five percent of the in-state contributions come from him.

Here's a person who is very wealthy, who wants to see a voucher plan adopted by the legislature in Missouri, and who is willing to spend a lot of money to support pro-voucher candidates who will deliver such a plan. And he's connected to All Children Matter of Michigan, and he has a pro-voucher "institute" of his own -- the "Show Me Institute" -- to publish pro-voucher articles and "studies."

Does any of this sound familiar? I mentioned a little bit about this man last month, but maybe it's worth looking at him again, because he certainly would benefit in Missouri if Utah voters adopted the voucher plan in November. He could say to Missouri legislators, see, they already set the precedent in Utah, so why shouldn't we do the same?

So, could Rex Sinquefield of Missouri be pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the corporation and foundation that funds Parents for Choice in Education's political action committee? Could he be part of the "group of people" that Mr. Demma in the Lieutenant Governor's office mentioned in today's DesNews? Since we don't know who the secret donors are behind PCE Inc. and the PCE Foundation, it's certainly possible. And because he's closely connected to All Children Matter of Michigan, it would certainly make sense.

Another thing, before I leave today's edition of the DesNews. I found in it a short but powerful note from John Betts of West Valley City here (,5143,695211784,00.html). Mr. Betts has already made up his mind about the voucher plan and he offers two objective facts, which I appreciate:

Let's get two things perfectly clear. First, despite all the rhetoric designed to convince us otherwise, the school voucher issue is not about choice. The issue is whether or not tax monies should be used to support private, for profit schools. If you believe that is an appropriate use of your tax dollars, vote for vouchers. If you believe that is not an appropriate use of your tax dollars, vote against vouchers.

Second, those who send their children to private schools are not relieved of their responsibility to support the public school system any more than are those who do not have children, or whose children are either too young or too old to attend school.

And finally, my thanks to Jeremy Manning at Jeremy's Jeremiad, Bob Aagard at The World According to Me, and Marshall at the Wasatch Watcher for linking to some of my notes this week. I really appreciate it, and I hope you'll read more of them after following these links to Jeremy's Jeremiad (, The World According to Me ( and the Wasatch Watcher ( I read them, too.