It's been a long time I took civics in high school, but I'm confident I learned there that the role of lawmakers -- men and women elected by citizens in their community -- is to adopt laws that reflect the will of the people who elected them. I realize that in some parts of our country -- particularly in the nation's capital -- people live in circumstances where the ideology of politicians outweighs the will of their constituents. Though I remember from civics class that the Constitution was drafted specifically to protect the will of constituents from their lawmakers, I know there's a whole industry built up now to protect the will of lawmakers from their constituents.
But I didn't think that was the prevailing wisdom here. We hadn't fallen victim to the political industry like folks have back East.
Then I read articles like Paul Rolly's column in this morning's Trib and I wonder if we're not so far away from succumbing to it, too.
"Lawmakers stack the deck on vouchers" is the headline, and the first sentence tells the whole story. "About 20 lobbyists were summoned to a meeting Monday by legislative leaders who urged them to roll up their sleeves and help save the voucher law."
Isn't a ballot referendum supposed to be the voice of the people? In fact, isn't it the last chance the people have to have their say on a law, after the legislature has had its way? That's what the Constitution provides. So what's wrong with informing every Utahn man and woman of voting age what the referendum says, answer any questions they have, then let them vote on whether to keep this law or discard it?
I know the answer, and the answer goes a long way toward telling me how I should vote on the referendum. The answer is that informing Utahns and letting them decide is too great a risk to the will of our lawmakers. The people may choose to overturn a bill -- a bill, by the way, that passed the state House by only one vote. And it is no secret, as I've discovered in just a few weeks of researching on the internet, that a great many of our lawmakers have been paid -- in the form of campaign contributions -- to do the bidding of a few wealthy ideologues.
Mr. Rolly writes, "The meeting was held at the Utah Board of Realtors office and the lobbyists were put in the position of either committing to the pro-voucher campaign or rejecting a request from the very lawmakers they need to help pass their legislative agendas each year. The legislators hosting the meeting were House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy; House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara; House Assistant Majority Whip Brad Dee, R-Ogden; Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo; and Senate Majority Assistant Whip Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse."
I was going to do this anyway, after getting the idea from Jeremy (http://www.themannings.org/soapbox/2007/08/28/the-money-behind-the-voucher-movement/#comments) earlier this week, but I hope to spend part of this weekend totaling up all of the campaign contributions given to these very lawmakers, one by one, and others by Parents for Choice in Education, and All Children Matter, and the nationwide network of pro-voucher donors.
So these state-paid lobbyists for PCE and ACM -- I'm talking about our elected representatives -- are rustling up an army of their own, not to inform voters and defend their right to vote on the voucher referendum, but instead to protect their masters' investment. And what are these newly-commandeered recruits to say? If they refuse, they risk getting doors slammed in their faces in Salt Lake City next winter. Mr. Rolly is right to call them a "captive audience." They're captive, all right: Detained and forced into labor by PCE and ACM.
"Those summoned to the meeting were asked to help defeat the November referendum that would repeal the voucher bill passed earlier this year. Most were lobbyists for business associations representing manufacturers, mining, homebuilders, small businesses, real estate agents, food retailers, trucking, the Chamber of Commerce, utilities and others," Mr. Rolly writes here (http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_6767098).
"The legislators explained to the captive audience that they were invited because their organizations were part of former Gov. Mike Leavitt's Business/Education Coalition, which issued a report in 2002 recommending various ways to improve education, including tuition tax credits for private schools. Because their groups had already endorsed the voucher concept, the legislators said, they need to step up and help defeat those who want to repeal the law that provides up to $3,000 toward private school tuition."
And what did Speaker Curtis and Sen. Bramble demand from their conscripts? Their money and their names, as if they were holding up an old stagecoach. A hundred years ago, it was called highway robbery. What is it called now?
And worse, this robbery is going to go on for a while, Mr. Rolly writes. "The lobbyists have been summoned to a follow-up breakfast meeting Thursday at the Board of Realtors to report on their fund-raising progress."
That's next Thursday morning. I think it's too bad it's a school morning, or Utah school kids taking civics would know exactly where to find their House and Senate leaders and ask them which is more important, heeding the will of constituents or protecting the million-dollar investment of ideologues from Michigan?
Friday, August 31, 2007
It's been a long time I took civics in high school, but I'm confident I learned there that the role of lawmakers -- men and women elected by citizens in their community -- is to adopt laws that reflect the will of the people who elected them. I realize that in some parts of our country -- particularly in the nation's capital -- people live in circumstances where the ideology of politicians outweighs the will of their constituents. Though I remember from civics class that the Constitution was drafted specifically to protect the will of constituents from their lawmakers, I know there's a whole industry built up now to protect the will of lawmakers from their constituents.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Last night, after deciding that I had as good an understanding as I could get of the Wisconsin case, I looked for a minute at the All Children Matter-WI's record at the Elections Board's website and it occurred to me that ACM had likely set up state committees in several of the places where it has been active. I spent another couple of hours googling to test the theory and came to a few interesting findings.
At the Virginia State Board of Elections website (http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Campaign_Finance_Disclosure/View_Disclosure_Reports/CF_Reports_Report_Codes.asp?SUWVVal=CommitteeActiveView&RepYearVal=2006&tCNVal=&tCCVal=&tCSVal=&tCZVal=&tCOVal=&tCBDVal=&tCEDVal=&tCAFVal=&tCATVal=&tCCSOptVal=EqualTo&OffVal=&PtyVal=&CommVal=981246), I found a political action committee called "All Children Matter-Virginia," and you can search the records there to find who contributed to it and who received disbursements from it.
At the Arizona Secretary of State's website here (http://www.azsos.gov/scripts/cfs_committee.dll/CommitteeSearch), you can find "All Children Matter-Arizona," formed on August 21, 2006, with Greg Brock of Michigan listed as its chairman and Lisa Lisker of Virginia as its treasurer. In fact, the legal address for ACM-AZ isn't in Arizona at all; it's in Alexandria, Virginia. When I clicked through its filings for 2006, I found a $2,000 contribution made on September 14, 2006, by a "Doug Holmes." I don't know if it's the same Doug Holmes that is a co-founder of Parents for Choice in Education, but it's a strange coincidence if it isn't.
At the Florida Division of Elections website here (http://election.dos.state.fl.us/online/commsrch.asp), I found "All Children Matter-Florida" AND "All Children Matter-Virginia." Apparently both committees are registered to do business in Florida. (Does that mean ACM can double its contributions into that state?) ACM-FL's chairman, treasurer and registered agent are all one person, John Kirtley of Tampa. On Florida's website, though, ACM-VA's legal address is in Tallahassee, and its chairman, treasurer and registered agent are all the same person again, but this time it's Brecht Heuchan of Tallahassee. I looked at the committees' ledger pages for 2006 about counted up about $7 million in contributions to the two, but I also noticed that almost (if not) all of ACM-FL's contributions come directly from the ACM-VA entity located in Florida.
At the Indiana Elections Division website here (http://www.indianacampaignfinance.com/inpublic/Reporting/CommitteeDetail.aspx?FileNumber=5208), I found "All Children Matter-Indiana," whose chairman is John Mutz of Indianapolis but whose treasurer is attorney John Bopp of Bopp, Coleson and Bostrom of Terre Haute, who is also the attorney for the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Choice in Education.
At the Missouri Ethics Commission's website here (http://www.mec.mo.gov/Ethics/CampaignFinance/CFCommitteeInfo1.aspx?MECID=C041446&Year=2007), I found All Children Matter-Missouri, whose treasurer is Jean Paul Bradshaw of Kansas City.
At the Ohio Secretary of State's website here (http://www1.sos.state.oh.us/pls/portal/PORTAL_CF.CF_QRY_PAC_COVERPAGE1.show?p_arg_names=year&p_arg_values=2006&p_arg_names=report_type&p_arg_values=200&p_arg_names=report_key&p_arg_values=87673), I found "All Children Matter-Ohio," whose treasurer is listed as Lisa Lisker, the same person who is treasurer for ACM-AZ. This time, however, her address is listed in Columbus, Ohio.
And back at the Wisconsin State Elections Board's website here (http://elections.state.wi.us/financereport_pac_all.asp), I found "All Children Matter-WI," whose treasurer is listed as, again, Lisa Lisker. This time, however, the committee's legal address is Lisker's address in Alexandria, Virginia.
But after reading the articles I've collected the past couple of weeks, I was surprised not to find an "All Children Matter" committee in South Carolina, where ACM spent a lot of money in 2004, or in Texas, where complaints have been filed, or right here in Utah. It appears that in some states, ACM has chosen not to create a committee under its own name, but to create or fund a committee with a different name.
Is PCE our ACM-UT?
Still trying to get details of what All Children Matter of Michigan did in Wisconsin that landed them in legal trouble, and what is the status of that trouble, I have turned up what look like the attorneys' explanations of what the complaints are and what ACM's answers are.
It boils down to this: Several people and organizations accused ACM of engaging in "express advocacy" in a state Senate district in Wisconsin without every registering with the appropriate state authority and reporting their activities, which is required by Wisconsin law of groups that intend to conduct "express advocacy" political action. "Express advocacy," as they explain it, means sending mail or making telephone calls urging people to vote for or against a candidate. Here's the sticky point. I think I've interpreted the complaint correctly to say that ACM did register as a "nonresident political committee" with the secretary of state's office in Wisconsin, which appears necessary to do business in the state. But it never registered as a "political committee" with the state board of elections, which is necessary to conduct political activity in the state. Under Wisconsin law, there's a difference.
So, without filing the paperwork that would allow it to conduct "express advocacy" political activity, ACM "disseminated communications to electors of the 21st Senate District via direct mail advertisements in which it expressly advocates that voters defeat Democratic candidate John Lehman. [The] advertisement states the following: 'There are over $12 billion reasons to vote against John Lehman'.”
Additionally, Wisconsin law requires that when a political committee sends "direct mail" like this, the mail has to include one of those disclaimers at the bottom that says, “Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s agent or committee.” But they didn't do that, either.
And finally, the law requires that if they engage in this kind of "express advocacy," they have to file campaign finance reports like any other political action committee, and they didn't do that, because they never registered as one with the board of elections.
Please trust that I have read the whole document and condensed several pages of legal-ese into these few sentences. But if you want to read it for yourself, it's here (http://elections.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=9969&locid=47).
How does this affect Utahns? Well, we have millions of dollars from ACM flowing into our state through Parents for Choice in Education (and I should mention a little later something I've learned in my searches about how PCE is an odd bird in the ACM family of political action committees), and we have PCE already sponsoring a nasty push-poll about the voucher referendum. Are our laws in Utah as tight as the Wisconsin laws that govern this activity? Or are looser election laws another reason that ACM was drawn to push its experiment here? I don't know this, but I hope someone does and can report it.
When ACM responded to the complaint, it said that there's a difference between "issue advocacy" and "express advocacy," and what it had done was "issue advocacy," which didn't require it to file with the board of elections or report its campaign finances like other political action committees. Assuming that the board of elections would accept its hair-splitting of "issue advocacy" from "express advocacy," then ACM confesses that it has done "issue advocacy" in Wisconsin "from time to time." As for registering with the appropriate authorities, ACM says it did all it was required to do under the law, since it was only doing "issue advocacy."
So the main question seems to be, what's the difference between "issue advocacy" and "express advocacy"? And which did/does ACM do?
This is dry stuff, but here's what Wisconsin says: Express advocacy is communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate or that is "unambiguously related to the campaign of that candidate."
Even ACM itself, in its attorneys' answer to the charges, said that "whether the Lehman Ad unambiguously advocates the defeat of Assemblyman Lehman is a close question. To be sure, the Lehman Ad notes that there are 'over $12 BILLION reasons to vote against John Lehman'.” (As a member of the legislature, Lehman voted on the state budget, and ACM says he shouldn't have voted for a $12 billion budget expense, which is why they wanted him to lose his race for Senate.)
So how does ACM say it escapes guilt? It says, "the Lehman Ad does not ask recipients to vote against Lehman." Instead, they say that because the mail "expresses an anti-tax message," it is "issue advocacy" and not "express advocacy." The complaint documents include the text of the "direct mail" piece, so you can read the message for yourself and see if this is a pro-Lehman or anti-Lehman advertisement:
The “Lehman flier,” and its subject language, reads as follows:
There are $12 BILLION reasons to vote against John Lehman.
John Lehman wants over $12 BILLION in HIGHER TAXES.
$12 BILLION. That’s right. BILLION with a “B.”
That’s how much John Lehman wants in higher taxes.
John Lehman supports raising payroll taxes by more than $12 BILLION dollars.
It’s a tax that would devastate small businesses, job creation, and Wisconsin’s economy (www.lehman4senate.com)
Lehman wants to raise our sales taxes, too.
Lehman’s tax proposal includes higher state sales taxes, taxing Wisconsin families on the things they need most.. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov.3, 2002)
John Lehman even voted to tax Social Security benefits. Lehman voted to keep the tax on Social Security benefits. (AB 100, 6/22/05)
Do you think they were asking people to vote against Lehman?
Here's a good question. If we get nasty "push-poll" telephone calls at home or "direct mail" telling us to vote for the voucher plan but no one identifies ACM as the source of funding for these activities, have they committed a crime under Utah law? I just don't know how strict or how lenient our laws are about these activities, and how far ACM-PCE are required to go to report what it's doing. It's clear from the Wisconsin complaint that ACM is willing to lean as far "over the line" as it can, and then will use attorneys and legal-ese to confuse a simple issue.
And here's one more thing. In its response to the complaint in Wisconsin -- seeing that it was caught "unambiguously" advocating for the defeat of a candidate -- ACM asked the board of elections not to go any further in "litigating the issue," since ACM has, since the complaint was filed, registered as a political committee with the board. The reason for this request seems clear to me: If ACM can stop the board of elections there from issuing a ruling on what constituted "express advocacy" in this case, then ACM is free to continue doing the same thing in that state, and it blocks Wisconsin from offering that sort of definition to other state boards of election as an example to follow. Of course, there's also the likelihood that if the Wisconsin board found that ACM had engaged in "express advocacy" after all, then it clearly broke state law and would have to pay expensive fines.
So there's a lot at stake in ACM's legal struggles in Wisconsin that could affect what it does in states like ours. A ruling against ACM in Wisconsin would cause other state authorities to consider what ACM is doing there.
Here's how the plaintiffs' attorneys answered ACM's explanation and pleas for leniency (I'm cutting out a lot to make this brief):
Notwithstanding ACM’s request for leniency, the circumstances here call for the imposition of a meaningful penalty.
ACM was fully aware of its obligations... As a pro-school voucher organization founded by prominent Michigan Republicans Richard and Betsy Devos in the Spring of 2003, and backed by Wal-Mart heirs John and Jim Walton to the tune of $6.2 million, ACM has funneled millions of dollars into state legislative campaigns to elect pro-private school voucher legislative majorities in states across the country.
ACM, Inc. in Alexandria, Virginia, is registered under section 527 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code, and in its tax return Form 990 plainly states its primary purpose as: “supported nonfederal committees and candidates . . . through direct contributions, in-kind contributions and independent expenditures in the form of media and direct mail.”
Despite its high-profile and financially potent presence in numerous state legislative elections, ACM pleads for leniency in the imposition of a fine here in Wisconsin because it “mistakenly” and “unintentionally” used the phrase “vote against” in its anti-Lehman ad sent to the electors of the 21st Senate District. The notion that ACM accidentally crossed the line from issue advocacy to express advocacy for the defeat of a candidate is belied, however, by ACM’s subsequent course of conduct. It has engaged in express advocacy in at least two other legislative races where it expressly advocated for the defeat of Pat Kreitlow in the 23rd Senate District and Corey Mason in the 63rd Assembly District.
ACM is a sophisticated and well-financed advocate for certain political candidates in state legislative races across the country. ACM has substantial resources staked by some of America’s largest financial empires. It has deployed these resources nationwide to leverage substantial influence in the selection of predominantly conservative Republican legislative candidates sympathetic to private school vouchers. ACM’s political largesse has wended its way -- via issue ads as well as by express advocacy – into Wisconsin’s electoral arena and our ongoing debate on the use of public tax dollars for private school vouchers. Wisconsin’s campaign finance registration and disclosure provisions are not abstract requirements for clean and tidy elections. Rather, they are intended to ensure that the electorate knows whose resources have successfully resulted in the selection of our elected officials, so that issues of political accountability are evident and transparent to the public once a successful candidate assumes political office.
Even if it did unwittingly, or accidentally cross the line in the Lehman race into express advocacy, ACM must understand that there are consequences for doing so. If ACM wishes to be a political influence in Wisconsin’s state legislative process, it must comply with our state’s campaign finance requirements. If it fails to do so, the legislature has provided for a range of relatively modest civil penalties to ensure compliance and to deter future noncompliance. To be sure, the legislature’s statutory enforcement scheme contemplates that more serious and intentional violations shall be subject to criminal prosecution. However, the full range of such civil penalties are plainly appropriate in the instant case where a non-resident political action committee has spared little in attempting to influence the outcome of a wide range of important legislative elections in Wisconsin.
If you're interested in seeing how ACM does its business from Michigan through a network of state political action committees across the country, it's explained in a document that was filed by Alliance for Choice in Education, one of ACM's big donors. ACE is listed as a defendant in the Wisconsin litigation, so they're concerned too with how the state board of elections decides this case. They submitted this document on November 29, 2006. You can find the whole document here (http://elections.state.wi.us/docview.asp?docid=10402&locid=47) but I picked out this part to show how the money flows -- and how ACM money from Michigan and elsewhere gets to Utah.
At a board meeting of Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE) on April 26, 2006, the board approved a request to spend up to $200,000 on issue advocacy in Wisconsin.
On September 21, 2006, ACE sent $90,000 to All Children Matter (a Virginia state PAC hereinafter referred to as ACM-VA State PAC) with explicit instructions that the funds be used for issue advocacy in Wisconsin (attached to this verified answer as Exhibit 1 is the transmittal letter from ACE to ACM-VA State PAC that accompanied ACE’s donation, which clearly states that the $90,000 is to be used for issue advocacy).
On September 29, 2006, the $90,000 donation from ACE to ACM-VA State PAC was reported by ACM-VA State PAC to the Virginia State Board of Elections. The $90,000 was deposited in the bank account of ACM-VA State PAC, which was the source of funds for issue advocacy in Wisconsin in 2006. ACM-VA State PAC could not have used ACE’s donation for express advocacy unless ACM VA-State PAC deliberately ignored ACE’s instructions and chose to use funds specifically restricted to issue advocacy at the very time that it had other unrestricted funds eligible to be used for express advocacy readily available.
Under any circumstances, once ACE gave ACM-VA State PAC $90,000 and directed that it be used for issue advocacy, that donation was no longer under ACE’s control. Notably, ACM-VA State PAC did expend more than $90,000 for issue advocacy in Wisconsin. All express advocacy done in Wisconsin was paid for by ACM-WI State PAC.
So it looks like big donors are told to contribute directly to ACM's political action committee in Virginia and to include some instructions about how they want their contributions spent.
I didn't intend to get lost in the hills on ACM's trouble in Utah, but I learned a lot about how it behaves when it gets caught leaning way over the line of the law and how they take great pains to hide everything they can get away with hiding.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I have to tell you that after googling and reading news media articles online about All Children Matter of Michigan -- probably close to a hundred of them in the past couple of weeks -- I think I understand the way they put their money into a political action committee, either one in Michigan or one in Virginia, and then funnel the money to their operations in different states. They seem to pick small, cheap states -- ones where they believe they can win enough legislative races to get their voucher proposals adopted, or where they can influence a voter referendum. And they seem to prefer states where there's at least one wealthy partner in that state who will work with them (like Patrick Byrne here, or Rex Sinquefield in Missouri, or David Brennan in Ohio). And they seem to prefer states where there's an in-state "institute" that can produce pro-voucher studies or editorials (like the Sutherland Institute here, or the Show Me Institute in Missouri).
But they've been involved in something in Wisconsin that I'm still trying to understand. Reading the news articles about it is like reading many different pieces of a puzzle. But I found a summary at Wisconsin Democracy Campaign that I think includes most of the important parts. I found it here (http://www.wisdc.org/ind04issueads.php). It explains a little bit about ACM's activity in Wisconsin, and its relationship to an organization called Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE), based in Milwaukee. (Although it sounds similar -- this confused me for a little while -- it is not the same group as the Alliance for School Choice (ASC), which is based in Phoenix, although ACE IS connected to ASC, and they're both connected to ACM, formally or informally. I admit it would be a lot easier to have all these state groups and individuals sketched out on a piece of paper.) Here it is:
All Children Matter is a right-wing group formed in Spring 2003 based in Michigan advocating school choice in the form of private school voucher programs and charter schools. Milwaukee school choice advocates, George and Susan Mitchell, represent the group in Wisconsin (see Alliance for Choices in Education). This group reportedly sought to influence about 16 state legislative races.
WDC [Wisconsin Democracy Campaign] confirms the following efforts. The group ran issue ad campaigns by direct mail in the 22nd, 30th and 32nd Senate districts. The mail pieces supported Republican Senate candidate Dan Kapanke (SD 32) and attacked Democratic incumbent Senators Robert Wirch (SD 22) and Dave Hansen (SD 30). They attacked Wirch and Hansen for their lack of support of a property tax freeze and made a veiled and unsubstantiated charge that they would send tax dollars to schools in Milwaukee at the expense of schools in their own districts.
It's these pieces of "direct mail" that apparently broke Wisconsin elections laws, and I'll explain that some more in a minute.
This group is headed by Michigan multimillionaire Dick DeVos, whose family is connected to Amway Corporation. DeVos' wife Betsy served for several years as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Her brother, Erik Prince, is the founder and owner of Blackwater Security Consulting, the private tactical training facility providing security forces in Baghdad. School choice advocate George Mitchell represents the group in Wisconsin, and has said ACM spent more than $500,000 to influence state legislative elections in 2004.
The Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE) is a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes parental school choice programs in the Milwaukee area. Headquartered in Milwaukee, ACE’s Board of Directors include a number of representatives of area private schools, and Dr. Howard Fuller, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Susan Mitchell, Vice Chair, School Choice Wisconsin, Dr. Daniel Grego, Secretary, TransCenter for Youth, Inc., and Tim Sheehy , Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
ACE ran issue ads for their "Lift the Cap" campaign. Based on information from the liftthecap.org web site, beginning in the spring of 2004, thousands of "Lift the Cap" yard signs, banners and bumper stickers were distributed in neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee. This was the beginning of a grassroots effort to mobilize community support for lifting the cap on the number of enrollments in Milwaukee’s school choice program. They were utilizing a real "issue ad" campaign urging citizens to call Governor Doyle and ask him to "Lift the Cap." As noted on their web site, they were utilizing radio commercials on urban contemporary and news talk stations, television commercials during Sunday morning news shows, billboards and bus signs throughout Milwaukee, and print advertisements in community newspapers and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In 2002 Fuller and Mitchell were both leaders in the American Education Reform Council (AERC), now known as the Alliance for School Choice.
AERC lobbying arm, the American Education Reform Foundation, was a national organization headquartered in Milwaukee that supports school choice and school vouchers.
Susan and her husband, consultant George Mitchell, have long been substantial financial contributors in Wisconsin state politics. Since 1993 the Mitchells have contributed more than $56,000 to candidates for state office. Other financial backers of the group have included the Lynde and Harry Bradley and John M. Olin Foundations which provided the Council with $1.3 million between 1998 and 2001. Wal-Mart heir and prominent school voucher proponent John Walton provided nearly $1 million dollars between 1999 and 2000. In addition, a conduit called Funds for Choice in Education and chaired by George Mitchell funneled more than $109,000 to candidates for state office during the 2001-2002 election cycle and more than $101,000 to legislative candidates in the 2003-2004 election cycle.
There's John Walton's name and money again, still playing a role in funding voucher proposals across the country even though he died two years ago.
The "direct mail" flyers that ACM paid for in Wisconsin are the cause of some litigation still going on there. As I read about these mailed flyers, I wondered what our own election laws say about ACM's ability to fund the same thing here, and I honestly don't know if they have the freedom to send things like this to us. I haven't seen any yet. But Parents for Choice in Education, supported largely with ACM funds, has already admitted sponsoring a nasty "push-poll" here.
"Media Mouse," which says it's an independent media outlet in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote about those "direct mail" flyers and the litigation here (http://www.mediamouse.org/features/121606devos.php) last December.
All Children Matter (ACM), an organization founded by former Republican candidate for governor and longtime financer of the school voucher movement Dick DeVos, is being accused of laundering money and failing to properly register with the state of Wisconsin according to a complaint filed Friday with the Wisconsin Elections Board. The complaint alleges that a political action committee (PAC) run by All Children Matter out of Virginia failed to register in Wisconsin before contributing $35,000 to a PAC run by the organization in Wisconsin.
Through the Virginia-based PAC All Children Matter is also accused of violating Wisconsin election laws that bar corporate contributions, with an entity in Wisconsin--Alliance for Choices in Education--contributing $90,000 in money that eventually made its way back to Wisconsin in the form of $35,000 spent on "issue ads" criticizing three Democratic legislative candidates. The complaint describes the transfer of money from Wisconsin to Virginia and then back to Wisconsin as "a scheme to launder campaign contributions" that hides who paid for the advertisements.
Which sounds exactly like what I learned they did in Ohio, and that they're being investigated right now for doing.
Across the United States, All Children Matter has intervened in a number of state legislative races, often drawing criticism for pumping large sums of out of state money into legislative races. During the 2004 election in Wisconsin, All Children Matter contributed over $500,000 to candidates. All Children Matter campaigned heavily for Republican state legislators in Florida in during the 2004 election, but never disclosed the fact that it ultimately was formed to support school vouchers. In South Carolina in 2004, All Children Matter contributed several hundred thousand dollars to candidates who had pledged support for "school choice" while also funding direct mail advertisements in school board races.
The organization also intervened in Utah in 20046, contributing the majority of the money used by a Utah-based organization pushing for school vouchers. In Missouri's 2004 election, close to 95% of the candidates supported by All Children Matter were elected as a result of the organization's $385,339 in contributions. While these contributions are legal in the aforementioned states, they are often disclosed only as "All Children Matter" and obscures the out-of-state sources for the majority of the money. In Missouri, a study revealed that less than 1% of the total contributions to the state's ACM PAC came from Missouri residents.
Again, this is similar to what they've done already here. ACM contributed more than half of the funding behind Parents for Choice in Education last year, with the handful of PCE's leaders adding another substantial percentage. Reporters for local newspapers even wrote that while people who supported the petition drive (to let Utah voters voice their opposition to the plan in November) include hundreds or thousands of people who tended to give smaller amounts, less than $100 each, PCE tends to have a few dozen individual and corporate donors who give large sums to support the voucher plan.
As a result, All Children Matter's activities in Missouri and other states should be seen as an attempt by wealthy political activists--many like DeVos with long histories of supporting the religious and economic right--to subvert the democratic process.
All Children Matter was formed in the Spring of 2003 by Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy DeVos8 as an organization that would work to coordinate a national movement in support of political candidates that support government-funded vouchers for private schools.
The organization has been active in the "opportunity" states of Florida, Wisconsin, Texas, Colorado, and Virginia where DeVoses believe that the pro-voucher movement has a chance of succeeding. All Children Matter is one of many organizations around the country supported by Dick and Betsy DeVos, who have a long history of support the voucher movement.
So Utah is an "opportunity state" because they see it as an opportunity to win their voucher referendum. But, I just learned, when they tried to pass their voucher plan in their own home state, the voters voted it down there.
In Michigan, they bankrolled a failed 2000 ballot initiative that would have created a voucher program and run the Education Freedom Fund, an organization that awards scholarships for students to attend private schools as a means of building support for private schools and creating an ideological climate in which private schools are seen as "better" that public schools. In addition to running the Education Freedom Fund, they hold leadership positions in a number of organizations that are working to pass voucher programs around the country and to build support for the privatization of the public schools. Like their funding of organizations through their Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, their participation in the voucher movement is a fusion of religious right and free-market ideology.
"Media Mouse" offers a list of related links at their website, and I hope you'll check some of them out for yourself:
Finally, "One Wisconsin Now" made a note of ACM's legal troubles in Wisconsin here (http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/one_wisconsin/the_forward_report/all_children_matter_has_a_troubling_history/) and made a list of other places where ACM has run into trouble for its activities that may have "bent" state laws.
On Friday a group of Racine area residents filed a complaint with the State Elections Board charging the Michigan-based organization, All Children Matter, with breaking Wisconsin state law. The complaint arose from a flyer distributed by the out-of-state organization, telling voters to "vote against" 21st Senate District Candidate Rep. John Lehman. This act clearly constituted express advocacy which triggered Wisconsin's statutory regulations. An organization doing express advocacy is required to disclose who they are, where they get their money, and how they are spending their money. All Children Matter did not report this information or register as a political action committee with the State Elections Board.
The recent complaint filed against All Children Matter is nothing new for the right wing organization. They have been the subject of numerous complaints all over the country for the manner in which they engage with issues and elections.
On June 7, 2005, the Associated Press reported on an ethics complaint filed against a Republican legislator in Missouri involving All Children Matter. That complaint alleged that a Republican legislator appeared to bribe her fellow Republicans to get them to reappoint her as chairwomen of a House education committee. In a letter to her colleagues, the legislator mentioned that she has helped to raise nearly $400,000 for Republicans, most of which came from All Children Matter.
In 2004, All Children Matter was accused of violating Florida election law with a flier promoting a candidate for the state House. A rival candidate filed charges against the organization with the Florida Elections Commission, stating that their support for the other candidate was express advocacy that violated campaign-contribution limits. Another candidate in Florida threatened to file a libel lawsuit against All Children Matter for sending out a flier accusing the candidate of not paying their property taxes.
Earlier this year in Texas, another group requested that All Children Matter be investigated by ethics officials. They claimed that the pro-voucher organization may not have filed reports with the state's election commission as frequently as required. They were also accused of not reporting certain donations from specific contributors.
And this is who is behind PCE, as clearly shown in campaign finance records.
How did this happen?
If I find more information about the investigations in Ohio and Wisconsin, I'll post it.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
The Turner Report, the blog that gave me a lot of information about what All Children Matter has been doing in Missouri, updated its reporting last night, and its most recent post is worth reading (http://rturner229.blogspot.com/2007/08/two-years-after-his-death-walton.html). Mr. Turner writes that the late John Walton, son of late Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, "continues to fund All Children Matter from beyond the grave. Apparently, Mr. Walton made sure that his estate would continue to fund his favorite causes, including the nation's top voucher proponent, All Children Matter."
Documents from the Virginia State Board of Elections indicate All Children Matter's Virginia PAC, which provided the $200,000 to fund the negative campaign advertising in the waning days of the 2004 election that propelled Matt Blunt into the governor's mansion, has received $4.1 million from Mr. Walton during the past year. Mr. Walton has been the PAC's biggest contributor since the beginning of 2006. It is almost a guarantee that some of Mr. Walton's money will make its way into Missouri in 2008.
And John Walton has been dead for two years now.
But I want to share something more interesting about what ACM has been allegedly caught doing in Ohio, in violation of Ohio law. And based on what I've found on the internet this evening, Ohio isn't the only place it's happening. There's some sort of litigation going on in Wisconsin, too, which I'll get to.
First, the secretary of state in Ohio called two weeks ago for a hearing when she discovered that ACM sent $870,000 to Ohio through its political action committee based in Virginia, called ACM-VA. WAVY-TV reported here (http://www.wavy.com/Global/story.asp?S=6921183&nav=23ii) that
A Virginia political action committee's transfer of $870,000 to an Ohio affiliate has caught the eye of Ohio's chief elections official, who is investigating the donations' ties to Ohio's biggest charter-school operator. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Akron industrialist David Brennan, who also is president of the for-profit White Hat Management charter schools in Ohio and six other states, has given $200,000 since 2004 to All Children Matter.
The Virginia group transfered $870,000 to an Ohio affiliate last year to help elect Republicans -- the subject of a state election-law complaint. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner argues that the influx violated state campaign laws. The Ohio Elections Commission has set a hearing on the matter for August 23rd.
The Columbus Dispatch added more details in a report on August 14 here (http://www.dispatch.com/dispatch/content/local_news/stories/2007/08/14/CTYCAP_ART_08-14-07_B3_A07K1LO.html). According to its report, ACM responded to the secretary of state's charges by saying, essentially, that neither she nor the Ohio Elections Commission warned it in advance that sending this money from Michigan through Virginia into Ohio was against the law, and that they shouldn't do it. In fact, the commission did send ACM an advisory, but ACM says the commission interpreted ACM's question differently, so it went ahead with its funding plans around the law.
A national group supporting school choice is under fire for its election activity in Ohio. But leaders say a 2006 Ohio Elections Commission advisory failed to directly warn it not to proceed. All Children Matter, a Michigan-based organization whose primary political action committee is registered in Virginia, started an Ohio PAC in 2006 and spent nearly $860,000 helping Republican candidates. The group was not active in Ohio campaigns prior to 2006, though it used Ohio-based direct mailing companies to help with campaigns in other states.
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner recently filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission arguing that All Children Matter illegally transferred $870,000 from its Virginia PAC to its Ohio PAC. Virginia does not have campaign-contribution limits and allows corporation contributions; Ohio's limit for PACs is $10,670, and corporate money is barred. Her complaint was filed with the Elections Commission, which sent All Children Matter an advisory opinion in May 2006.
"There was an advisory opinion issued to us, but it did not address the statute in a way that we had asked, so we moved forward," said Greg Brock, the group's executive director. "The only reference it made was that we had to be properly registered in Ohio. By the time the advisory opinion was issued, a couple months after we asked for it, we had already registered our committee, so that was a moot point." The advisory does talk about the need to register, but also says, "It would not be possible for an existing All Children Matter PAC from another state to (properly file) with the Ohio secretary of state."
An editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer here (http://www.cleveland.com/printer/printer.ssf?/base/opinion/1187425921238390.xml&coll=2) spells out the difference:
At issue is more than $850,000 in campaign contributions that a Virginia political action committee favoring school choice gave to its Ohio counterpart in 2006. The two states' PACs - both called All Children Matter - consider themselves affiliates and believe it was legal to transfer funds from one to the other. But Brunner's campaign finance administrator, J. Curtis Mayhew, notes that Ohio law requires that the Virginia PAC establish a formal presence within the state. Mayhew says the Ohio Elections Commission pointed out that requirement when All Children Matter-Ohio inquired in May 2006 - which was before Democrats swept all but one of the state's executive offices.
Because the Virginia PAC's contributions are not allowed, Mayhew wrote, the Ohio group must refund them. Not only does the Ohio PAC not have the money to do so, Columbus attorney William Todd countered in a letter to Mayhew, it does not believe it must. By his reading of state statute, the two PACs are in fact affiliates; besides, Todd continued, "it is our understanding that such transfers between affiliated PACs regularly occur in Ohio and that your office has not attempted to assert this interpretation of the statute."
Here's a question that I thought of while reading these matters from Ohio: Right now, we only have Parents for Choice in Education, which is mostly funded by ACM and a handful of wealthy partners here in Utah. But is it possible that, after building its operation here in Utah through PCE for the past few years, it will open a base of operation here and use it to run voucher campaigns across the West, the way it runs its campaigns in the East through Virginia? It already looks at us as a small, cheap state where it's easy to do its business. If it succeeds here in November, does anything stop ACM from setting up a real base of operation here?
I'm remembering that there seemed to be a pattern in ACM's operations in Utah and Missouri -- a pro-voucher in-state "institute," a wealthy in-state partner, and a process to fund legislative campaigns for lawmakers who would support voucher legislation. In the Ohio articles, the only part of the pattern I haven't seen yet is the pro-voucher "institute."
The hearing on this issue was held just last week. I don't know if the elections commission took any action there yet, but the Akron Beacon Journal spelled out the issue this Sunday here, and reading it made me think about how money gets sent into Utah and passed around to help lawmakers get elected, and to help one another get elected, and to influence how we think and vote on issues like the voucher referendum in November. As much as I want to ask, "What do we know about what's going on," I sometimes think it's more important to ask, "What DON'T we know about what's going on." What we DON'T know about these people from Michigan could hurt us a lot worse than what we can easily find out, because they clearly have drawn a target on Utah and they know how to do what they're doing.
The Akron Beacon Journal's story is here (http://www.ohio.com/news/willard/9381836.html) and it says,
Ohio's current campaign finance system hinges on full disclosure and limited contributions. The public should be able to follow the money, and caps on contributions should ''level the playing field'' for individuals and political action committees. This is a myth. Last week, lawyers for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and a pro-charter school PAC named All Children Matter Ohio squared off before the Ohio Elections Commission. Brunner alleges the Ohio PAC exceeded contribution limits and illegally received $870,000 from a sister PAC based in Virginia that never registered in Ohio.
The true source of the money was hidden because the Virginia PAC dumped the dollars into Ohio through five and six-figure checks. The Ohio PAC spent the money on 29 Republican candidates for statewide office, the General Assembly and the State Board of Education. There is an Akron angle. David Brennan, the charter school entrepreneur, gave money to the Virginia PAC.
Let's clear the legal cobwebs here.
Brunner is arguing that so-called fat-cat contributors such as Brennan are maxing out on their contribution limits to candidates in Ohio. They then contribute to a PAC in Virginia. The out-of-state PAC launders the money back to Ohio in a way that cannot be traced directly to the fat cats. This does trample the spirit of Ohio's campaign finance reform.
But let's be honest. Ohio's campaign laws are filled with so many loopholes for PACs, parties, candidates and caucuses that there is no need to cross state boundaries to bypass contribution limits and circumvent disclosure requirements.
Last year, 10 candidates for state representative, including Jon Husted, R-Kettering, faced no opposition in the general election. Essentially, they were elected when the polls closed after the primary on May 2. Although they had no reason to do so, the 10 candidates raised $1.46 million after securing their seat and spent even more $1.87 million because they had money left over after the primary. According to campaign finance reports maintained by Brunner's office, Husted spent $1.2 million. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, spent $173,000, and Jim Carmichael, R-Wooster, spent $111,000. Republicans are not the only ones funneling money. Armond Budish, D-Mansfield, an unopposed freshman in an open seat, spent $238,000 after the primary.
Legislators who are unopposed or in secure seats and raise money for candidates in heavily contested races to avoid contribution limits and disclosure are called ''banks.'' These ''banks'' launder the money to the point where it is impossible to determine whether the funds came from an individual or a PAC that had already contributed the maximum to a candidate in a contested race. So the contribution limits and the disclosure requirements in Ohio's campaign finance laws are meaningless.
The All Children Matter Ohio PAC could have used this and other loopholes to collect and distribute funds to candidates without landing before the elections commission or eventually in court with Brunner. Brunner alleges the Virginia PAC didn't register in Ohio and therefore did not have the legal standing to move money to its affiliate, All Children Matter Ohio. But what Brunner's legal beef really amounts to is that the Ohio PAC violated the law because it didn't follow the rules established by legislators to launder campaign contributions in Ohio.
And that's no myth.
Do we have loopholes that big in Utah? Are our campaign finance laws just as "meaningless" as this reporter says Ohio's law are?
After learning what we have learned about ACM and PCE, the bigger question looks like, What don't we know about what they're doing? In Utah? In Missouri? In Texas? In South Carolina? In Ohio? And in Wisconsin?
And who is asking the questions to find out those answers for us before November?
Another internet search turned up some information about All Children Matter of Michigan operating in South Carolina. A newspaper editor there, writing on June 22 about a local politician, dug out an article he wrote in 2004 about a state Senate campaign and who was funding it. Editor Brad Warthen of The State newspaper has his own blog and explains ACM's activities in his state there (http://blogs.thestate.com/bradwarthensblog/2007/06/you-want-someth.html).
You want something to criticize Ken Wingate for, Democrats and other knee-jerk critics? How about his promise to denounce the extremist out-of-state group All Children Matter if it got involved with his campaign to unseat Sen. Joel Lourie, which he then failed to keep? This was a great disappointment to me, because all other dealings I had had with Mr. Wingate gave me the impression that he was a man to keep such a promise. Here's why I wrote about it at the time:
LOURIE VS. THE ANTI-SCHOOL OUTSIDERS
Published on: 10/31/2004
BY BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
THE S.C. SENATE District 22 race is not about Ken Wingate and Joel Lourie any more. That's because an out-of-state group with an extreme agenda has dumped what looks like more than $100,000 into the race in the last week. (That's $80,000 we know about in TV ads, plus a couple of mailings that likely cost more than $10,000 each.) Even when it was just between Mr. Wingate and Mr. Lourie, two men I'd known and respected for some time, I had already made up my mind that I preferred Joel Lourie. So had our editorial board. We had good things to say about Mr. Wingate, but had to go with Mr. Lourie's stellar record. Also, while we thought Mr. Wingate might be OK on education, we knew Mr. Lourie would be one of the Senate's staunchest advocates for schools.
Mr. Wingate has good things to say about his support of schools, but also has a disturbing affinity for the "choice" movement. That, combined with his close association with Gov. Mark Sanford - for whom "choice" is the only kind of education reform - gave us pause.
It also attracted the support of the Michigan-based All Children Matter.
Here, particularly, is the part of Mr. Warthen's article that caught my eye, enough that I re-read it a couple of times and thought he could be writing about what's going on in Utah right now.
This group doesn't care about Ken Wingate or Joel Lourie or you or me or any of the people of South Carolina. It cares only about advancing its agenda.
And since it doesn't mention its agenda in its ads (for the good reason that it is unpopular), I'll define it: Advancing a national movement away from the notion that states have a responsibility to provide good, accountable public schools.
In South Carolina, the group backs the governor's proposal to take money that would otherwise go to run public schools and use it to pay some parents to send their kids to private schools.
It doesn't want to do this through open debate, because it would lose.
Instead, the group uses stealth tactics in an attempt to stack the Legislature with people who will do its bidding. It believes, with good reason, that Mr. Wingate will be more malleable to its purpose. By contrast, there is probably no one running for legislative office this year who is less likely to do this Orwellian-named group's bidding than Joel Lourie.
It doesn't matter to All Children Matter that few Senate districts in South Carolina are more supportive of public education than District 22 (and with good reason, given the excellence of the schools in the district). That just gives the group more motivation to talk about something other than its real agenda in its ads.
But the next point was a mystery to me, why a politician would first say he'd "denounce" ACM if it interfered in his race -- even in his favor -- but then changing his mind when ACM did get involved.
Several weeks ago, Mr. Wingate told me that if All Children Matter weighed into this race, he would denounce it. He now refuses to do so, using the Clintonian logic that since All Children Matter has a South Carolina presence, this does not constitute an incursion by outsiders.
Yet the group had two South Carolinians representing it before he made his promise. I asked him if he had any evidence demonstrating that "All Children Matter of South Carolina" today consists of anything more than a Post Office box and the two individuals he and I both knew were involved before. "I am under the impression that there is more of a presence than that," he said. "I'm not going to start reeling off names."
But set that aside, because this is no longer about Ken Wingate and Joel Lourie. It's about whether the voters of District 22 will be persuaded to go along with a group that would undermine their public schools.
Mr. Lourie believes that if that happens, it will not only mean his defeat. It will be a huge boost for the narrow agenda of All Children Matter. If it can use its money to defeat one of the strongest advocate of public schools in one of the most pro-school districts in the state, it will intimidate the rest of the Legislature into supporting it.
I'm afraid he's right. And for the sake of the rest of South Carolina, I sincerely hope the people of District 22 won't let that happen.
His description is so eerily similar to what's going on here that you could replace "South Carolina" with "Utah" and change the candidates' names, and it could be published in the Trib.
Continuing his analysis just less than two months ago, Mr. Warthen added this footnote in his blog: "All Children Matter is a part of the anti-public school movement that we've seen manifested in other groups, such as SCRG and CIA. There's a pattern -- driven and funded from out of state, highly ideological, striving to remake our Legislature in its image, and misleading about intentions when it does get involved in the electoral process. These groups have a much greater potential to harm South Carolinians, black and white, than the League of the South could in a thousand years. They are determined, they are well-financed, and they strike at the very heart of our state's greatest hope for the future."
Knowing what I know now, this affirms what I concluded on Friday, that these people in Michigan picked Utah because they consider us a small and cheap state where they can run a voucher plan through the legislature, past Utah voters, and then use their victory to build momentum for campaigns in bigger states. It's a national campaign, not just an idea that grew from Utah voters or lawmakers.
Mr. Warthen concluded the same thing about what ACM is doing in South Carolina -- is it another small, cheap state? And the writers at the Turner Report have uncovered the same pattern in Missouri -- is it another small, cheap state, too?
But this web connecting Michigan money to voucher campaigns in Texas, Missouri and South Carolina isn't all that I found online this weekend. In Ohio, ACM has run into legal trouble because Ohio's campaign laws prohibit some of the kinds of transfers of money between political action committees that ACM has gotten away with in smaller, cheaper states. Right now, ACM is working to get itself out of hot water there.
Monday, August 27, 2007
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 (http://rturner229.blogspot.com/2007/06/enemies-of-public-education-are-blunts.html):
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 (http://rturner229.blogspot.com/2007/06/st-louis-american-examines-gambaro.html) 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 (http://blogs.columbiatribune.com/politics/2007/07/the_rex_factor.html),
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 (http://rturner229.blogspot.com/2007/07/voucher-proponents-preparing-for-major.html).
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.
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 (https://ucrs.utah.gov/ucrsppc/public.html). 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 "CampaignMoney.com" 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. (http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/527/utahs-working-moms-and-dads-inc.asp). Google says that "Rodney W. Rivers" is a real estate lawyer (http://pview.findlaw.com/view/1457917_1?noconfirm=0) licensed to do real estate work here (https://secure.utah.gov/cas/search?page=agentDetails&id=141633) 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 (http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=22995), where it says that "Parents for Choice's biggest donors are a Virginia-based group called All Children Matter; Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com; 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 (http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=1098460):
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, Overstock.com 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 Overstock.com, 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.
Overstock.com'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 (http://www.wasatchwatcher.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=123) 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.
Tracking down the names and purposes behind Parents for Choice in Education's largest contributor, All Children Matter of Michigan, has been like pulling at what looks like a loose string on a sweater. But the more you pull on it, the more you find that it's all one string, knitted back-and-forth from one sleeve to the other. In just a few hours this weekend, I know that what I've learned can't be more than a fraction of what there is to know. But I've been amazed at the reach of this organization into several states across the country. And in every state, there's the same story: A little local money and a lot of Michigan money gets routed, usually through a political action committee in Virginia, into Utah, or Ohio, or Texas, or Missouri, or South Carolina, to get people elected or appointed who will push voucher plans through the legislature or the state board of education. The money that is spent in a single year to make this happen is more than most people will ever see in a lifetime.
Rebecca Walsh's story in the Trib (June 25, 2006) got me pointed in the right direction, looking at All Children Matter. Reading her article, I understood why Utah was picked for this voucher plan: It's considered a "small state" by people who fund ACM, so it's would be cheaper here to run a voucher plan through the legislature and past Utah voters, and then use that victory to build momentum for campaigns in bigger states. It means this a national campaign, not just an idea that grew from Utah voters or lawmakers.
I asked what this said about our legislature, that ACM could target us -- a small, cheap state -- to pour money into some legislative campaigns in order to protect or win enough votes to get a voucher plan through the legislature? I wondered what it says about us that for a few million dollars, these people from Michigan got exactly the bill they wanted, House Bill 148, by a one-vote margin in the House last winter. Mrs. Walsh explained that the voucher plan has almost nothing to do with Utah voters; it has more to do with the folks from Michigan and their fight against Utah teachers.
In fact, it isn't just Utah teachers, I discovered -- it's teachers (or public schools) across the nation.
A lot of people in the media have already been covering a lot of these details. You just have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to see the big picture. This weekend, I found a lot more of the pieces scattered across the country.
For example, a writer named Susan Cunningham in Missouri wrote on August 28, 2005, about ACM on her weblog here (http://myvoiceonline.blogspot.com/2005/08/whats-matter-with-all-children-matter.html). She wrote,
"This national organization claims on its website to work for the election of public officials who are committed to ensure that all children in America have equal access to a quality education. The group was founded in 2003 by former Amway Corporation president Richard DeVos and lists some of its big contributors as hard-core privatization proponents. Whenever right-wing big corporation types start looking and sounding like "bleeding heart liberals," it's time to do some checking.
Background: Going WAY back - Fifty years ago, conservative guru Milton Friedman, called for "denationalizing schooling" and letting "private enterprise" do the job of educating young Americans. In a Wall Street Journal article in June of this year, Friedman celebrated the fact that his voucher idea was finally catching on. ("After 50 years, education vouchers are beginning to catch on," WSJ, June 9, 2005.)
The goal of most of the pro-privatization groups is to dismantle ALL public programs because they don't think it's the government's job to help individual people. The most famous statement by one of these adherents is the "drown it in the bathtub" comment by Grover Norquist in reference to his goal of eliminating government sponsored social programs.
All Children Matter is just one of many groups pushing for the de-funding of public education. They work together with front groups in local elections to get the candidates most willing to do their bidding into office.
And in her own research of them, she found this list of their activities:
November 2003 "Michigan PAC gave cash to 24 VA politicians." All Children Matter spent $300,000 to elect representatives favorable to school voucher programs and tried to make it look like they were primarily concerned about low-income children not having enough options. Virginia voters saw through the charade, but ACM promised to be back in future elections.
July 2004 "Groups push for passage of tuition tax-credit bill." Before the June primary, ACM sent mailers and bought radio time in South Carolina to lobby in favor of income-tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools, despite the fact that low-income parents don't make enough to benefit from a tax break. A bill to that effect died in committee, but ACM promised to be back.
October 2004 "Pro-voucher group drops cash on state campaigns." ACM sent fliers to voters in St. Petersburg, Florida, in support of a pro-voucher candidate for state representative. The candidate tried to distance himself from the group and said he hadn't seen the flier before it was mailed. As state rep, the candidate voted to create the state's two largest voucher programs: the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program for low-income kids and the McKay Scholarship which helps disabled children. ACM's donations to all Florida candidates in that election was over $500,000. That's a lot of "compassionate conservatism."
December 2004 "Out-of-state donors are big players in tax credit debate." Certain Republican incumbents in the Utah House of Representatives were targets of ACM for not being conservative enough! ACM's $252,000 combined with $50,000 from another pro-voucher group accounted for 86% of the money taken in by Parents for Choice in Education, the main Utah advocate for tuition tax credits for parents of private school children. They tried to defeat Republican Rep. David Hogue despite Hogue's credentials as a proven conservative and support from his own conservative colleagues. The reason? Hogue had voted against a tax credit bill. Similar tactics were applied to the race of Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan, but both Hogue and Dunnigan were re-elected. (Parents for Choice, it seems, doesn't involve very many parents. Only 12 people were counted as "$50 or less" contributors.)
For good reason, Mrs. Cunningham asked, "What's really going on here?"
There are lots of different motivations for people to want to dismantle public education. For some, it's about religion. Some people don't agree with the public school curriculum which is based on preference for the scientific method, historical inquiry, the celebration of individual diversity, and the belief that each child has unique potential. Parents who prefer private schools are certainly free to send their children to them or home school them or whatever. But they shouldn't be able to opt out of paying taxes for public schools any more than they can opt out of paying for public roads, parks, police departments or any other investment in the common good of the community. Educating ourselves is an investment in the future of our country, not just one families' kids.
For others, the desire to destroy public schools is about finding ways to make money. With so many of the avenues for capital investment and profit going overseas or becoming saturated with too many people fighting over the same resources, corporations are looking for new ways to make a buck. Thus the "privatization" of everything movement. Just as HMO's have succeeded in making lots of people rich, so too can EMO's, or so they think.
For others, the privatization craze is ideological. They truly believe in limited government and think all social programs should be run by for-profit companies or "faith-based" service organizations. For those who are eager to see both the conversion of programs to private ventures and the conversion of American voters to a conservative religious point of view, dismantling public schools accomplishes two goals at once.
Last year, WOOD-TV in Michigan did a story (http://www.woodtv.com/global/story.asp?s=5539114&ClientType=Printable) on Dick DeVos, who founded ACM and who was running for governor of Michigan then, and the story lays out pretty clearly that Mr. DeVos and his wife have a lot of money to spend, and they have a specific public policy agenda, and they have figured out a way to get their money into several states where some lawmakers are willing to take their contributions and carry their agenda.
DeVos in 2003 set up a political action committee, All Children Matter, to promote efforts in other states to push vouchers and tax credits for businesses that create scholarships for children to attend private schools. The PAC is run out of west Michigan even though it's set up in Virginia. DeVos initially headed the group but since has handed that responsibility over to his wife.
The PAC has been a way for the DeVoses - and Wal-Mart heirs Jim and John Walton, among others - to give millions of dollars this year and in previous elections to candidates in states such as Ohio and South Carolina that support school choice. All Children Matter also has played a financial role in aiding efforts in Utah, Texas and other states to push for vouchers and tax credits for parents who want to send their children to private schools.
In 2004, for instance, All Children Matter gave about $1.4 million to All Children Matter-Colorado to spend on legislative races and help elect candidates who agreed with their views. In Utah that year, the group gave about $252,000 to a PAC called Parents for Choice that pushed for private-school vouchers and tuition tax credits.
All Children Matter spent more than $8.2 million in at least 10 states in the 2003-04 cycle, according to the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, making it one of the largest PACs to play a role in that election. Dick and Betsy DeVos gave $375,000 to All Children Matter from 1999 through 2005.
At about the same time, a writer at the weblog "Stone Soup Musings" in Michigan described here (http://stonesoupmusings.blogspot.com/2006/06/devos-name-pops-up-in-utah.html) what they learned ACM was doing in Texas.
Although DeVos is busy spending his fortune in Michigan to get himself elected governor (more than $5 million so far), his influence doesn't end there. Questions about the PAC's funding extend to Texas too.
[In March,] Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller... asked state election officials to investigate whether two political action committees funded by the state’s biggest private school voucher pusher have complied with campaign finance laws. One complaint Miller filed with the Texas Ethics Commission asks whether the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC) –- funded almost entirely by San Antonio businessman Dr. James Leininger –- has met legal requirements before making campaign expenditures. The other notes that All Children Matter PAC –- a beneficiary of large Leininger contributions over the years –- may not have reported all of its contributions. [...]
All Children Matter PAC reported a December 2005 in-kind contribution of $54,360 for polling services to The Future of Texas Alliance PAC. Yet All Children Matter PAC reported a cash-on-hand balance of just $2,168.95 in July and has reported no income since. In fact, the PAC even failed to make monthly reports for August and September 2005. As a result, voters have no way of knowing how the PAC is accounting for the more than $52,000 difference in income and expenditures.
As much as I found published in 2006 and before, the coverage of ACM's activities across the country in 2007 has been much greater.
Friday, August 24, 2007
When I said I'd start to look at who was behind the pro-voucher side of the November ballot referendum, there were two things I certainly didn't expect. One, how long I could spend chasing links to more links to even more links on the internet, and two, how many people -- far and wide apart across the country -- are involved in Parents for Choice in Education. At the end of it all, it became clear to me that PCE isn't a Utah organization at all; we just happen to be a convenient target for someone else's agenda because of the circumstances in our state and because we have a handful of people willing to devote their time to that agenda. After finding reading probably 50 different news articles going back over the past couple of years in Utah and elsewhere, I still can't tell how much money from Michigan and Virginia is being sent here to get vouchers passed in Utah, or who all is behind it.
But I learned one more important thing that helps: A lot of people in the media have already been covering a lot of these details. You just have to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to see the big picture.
Rebecca Walsh of the Trib wrote on June 25, 2006, that "Parents for Choice in Education has a grass-roots image and a name ready-made for focus groups. But it turns out most of the cash the advocacy group for private-school vouchers and tuition tax credits spreads around Utah in elections comes from big-business donors outside the state - including the Wal-Mart heirs and founders of multilevel marketing giant Amway."
Ms. Walsh's article isn't live anymore at the Trib's website, but you can read it (or most of it) at the weblog of Susan Ohanian here (http://www.susanohanian.org/atrocity_fetch.php?id=6257).
Organized five years ago as a political action committee - a fledgling roost for charter-school and private-school devotees - Parents for Choice initially was relatively low-budget and weak. But an infusion of out-of-state financing has changed that, allowing the group to build a base of support in the state Legislature and Governor's Office and shape the education-reform debate in Utah.
So far this year, the voucher advocates and related political organizations and individuals have given 21 candidates for the state Legislature more than $64,000 leading up to party conventions and Tuesday's primary election. Undoubtedly, that number will grow as candidates work their way to November's general election and Parents for Choice's financiers continue to send checks. If money is power, Parents for Choice is bulking up.
When voucher advocates first opened their doors, their ideas were big but money was scarce. Venture capitalist Jordan Clements and telecommunications executive Doug Holmes believed Utah needed a political organization to push education reform: merit pay for teachers and "school choice" - charter schools, private-school scholarships, vouchers and tax credits.
In 2002, with just $10,000, the PAC gave modest donations to a dozen conservative lawmakers and candidates. The next year was even leaner. Only six candidates received cash. But in 2004, all that changed with $255,000 in seed money from Michigan-based All Children Matter. That year, the PAC spread its good fortune around. And Parents for Choice supporter Patrick Byrne, Overstock.com chief, chipped in $75,000 for Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Now, there are spinoffs of the PAC - Education Excellence Utah and Children First Utah. Other related or sympathetic PACs have formed recently, including Utah Working Moms and Dads, whose founders include former Salt Lake County Councilman Russell Skousen, and Future Moms and Dads. Parents for Choice in Education director Elisa Clements Peterson, Clements' daughter, refuses to comment about her organization's financing until September - a federal tax deadline that coincides with a state deadline for political action committee disclosure forms.
"Nobody's going to comment," communications director Nancy Pomeroy said. When pressed about the sources of Parents for Choice's money, specifically All Children Matter, Pomeroy said: "I don't know what you're talking about."
The last quote -- "Nobody's going to comment" -- reminded me of the articles in the papers last week about the nasty push-polling PCE did. PCE's spokeswoman didn't answer the questions asked of her, and the board member who was asked for comment wouldn't give one.
Mrs. Walsh explained the history of All Children Matter, the group that gave so much money to PCE and Utah legislators' campaigns last year:
All Children Matter evolved out of a failed 2000 Michigan citizens initiative for private-school vouchers. Chairwoman Betsy DeVos and her husband, Dick, have a long history of pushing for "school choice." In 2001, Betsy DeVos organized the Great Lakes Education Project to push for charter schools in Michigan's Legislature.
Two years later, that group morphed into All Children Matter. Dick DeVos is an Amway heir and a 2006 candidate for Michigan governor.
The DeVos family has spent a good chunk of their fortune on the PAC. Along with them, Wal-Mart heirs Jim and John Walton are frequent donors, giving more than $3 million to the PAC in 2004.
Utah's voucher and tax-credit advocates have received their share of that funding. All Children Matter Director Greg Brock says along with Florida, Louisiana, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin, Utah is a key state for the school-choice movement - in part because a political action committee already existed here. Also, campaign money spreads further in small states.
I didn't mention this in my notes on Wednesday, but when I google-searched the Heartland Institute, I found a page that lists its board of directors, and Thomas Walton is a member of their board. When I saw the Walton family name again in Mrs. Walsh's article, it made sense to connect those dots.
Reading her article, it makes it clearer to me why Utah was picked for this voucher plan: It's considered a "small state" by the people who fund All Children Matter, so it would be cheaper here to run a voucher plan through the legislature and past Utah voters, and then use that victory to build momentum for campaigns in bigger states. It means this a national campaign, not just an idea that grew from Utah voters or lawmakers.
And what does this say about our legislature, that this organization targeted us -- a small, cheap state -- to pour money into some legislative campaigns in order to protect or win enough votes to get a voucher plan through the assembly? What does it say that for a few million dollars, these people from Michigan got exactly the bill they wanted, House Bill 148, by a one-vote margin in the House this winter?
Though it certainly wasn't an overnight success. Mrs. Walsh shows that it took a few years for them to get what they wanted.
Virtually every year since Parents for Choice formed, Utah lawmakers have debated the merits of some legislation pushed by Parents for Choice - including proposals for publicly-funded tax credits or vouchers for parents who send their children to private schools, scholarships for disabled students and easing regulations on charter schools. The most controversial issues - vouchers and tax credits - inevitably stall as lawmakers split along the narrowest of margins.
Parents for Choice and All Children Matter are determined to shift that margin, Brock says. But like Peterson, Brock declined to talk about how much money the Michigan PAC is sending west this election year until September, for "strategic reasons."
The strategy is clear. So far, tax-credit advocates have targeted moderate, public-education friendly legislators, many of them schoolteachers. And the tactic already has worked: Lehi Rep. David Cox, a fifth-grade teacher, lost his bid for re-election at the Utah County Republican convention in April. His opponent, Ken Sumsion, got $3,545 from Parents for Choice and Utah Working Moms and Dads.
"That money made the biggest difference," Cox said. "They were researching my record a year ago to find any bills they could twist to make me look bad. I couldn't compete with the level of sophistication and expertise that was brought in."
I read this and I think, again, what does this say about us? That a group of wealthy people in Michigan come to Salt Lake City and decide who and what our state government is going to be?
And then Mrs. Walsh explains that it has almost nothing to do with Utah voters at all. It has more to do with the folks from Michigan and their fight against Utah's teachers. When you look at the details, the overflow of money from Michigan is even stranger.
Parents for Choice board member Steve Poulton, a former legislator, said sending money to sympathetic candidates is the PAC's right as a participant in democracy.
"It is delightful to see an organization like Parents for Choice in Education take on historically the most powerful special interest group in the state, the teachers union," Poulton said. "The education lobby - led by the teachers union - has long been without a counterbalance of any kind."
So far this year, UEA has spent $5,000 in legislative races, said Vik Arnold, UEA government relations and political-action director. Just three candidates have reported receiving cash from the teachers union.
UEA President Pat Rusk draws a line between her organization's political activities and that of school-choice advocates. For one thing, she says, UEA's funding comes from individual Utah teachers' donations and dues, which are pooled together. Parents for Choice seems to be financed in $1 million increments by wealthy, out-of-state business owners, Rusk said. She believes those donations undermine Parents for Choice's claims to be representing hundreds of Utah parents who want to buck public education.
"The money has allowed them to have Web sites and commercials," Rusk said. "There's a perception that they're bigger than they really are."
Whatever the number of its supporters, the survival of Parents for Choice is no longer in question. Seven candidates were on the group's "hit list" this year. With financing from groups like All Children Matter, that list likely will grow.