With the 2012 election still nine months away, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is already sitting on a re-election treasury of $400,000, considerably more than the $307,000 he spent to win the office four years ago.
That means whoever the Indiana Democratic Party selects to run will face an uphill fight when it comes to cash – and the party won’t pick its candidate until June.
It’s no surprise that Bennett has raised a lot of money. He has gained a national reputation in education reform circles, and he’s been traveling the country, spending time with political heavy hitters. His is wired in with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Chiefs for Change organization.
Bennett’s major campaign funding sources include:
— Wealthy Indiana business people with a history of giving to Republicans: $50,000 from Merrillville hotel developer Dean White, $22,500 from Mike Weaver of Weaver Popcorn, $20,000 from William Oesterle of Angie’s List and $10,000 from Carmel investment manager Robert Goad.
— Out-of-state businesses that contract with the Indiana Department of Education, or might like to: $5,000 from K-12 Inc., operator of online charter schools; $2,500 from McGraw-Hill, Indiana’s testing contractor; $2,800 from ITEACH U.S., a Texas company that provides alternative teacher certification; and $1,000 from Kevin McAliley, CEO of educational services company Apangea Learning.
— Supporters of Bennett’s “choice and competition” agenda: $25,000 from Indianapolis charter-school founder Christel DeHaan; $15,000 from Hoosiers for Economic Growth and $11,500 from the American Federation for Children, a pair of pro-voucher outfits; $5,000 from Richard DeVos, Amway heir and voucher supporter; and $5,000 from Florida charter-school supporter Gary Chartrand.
— Members of Chiefs for Change: $5,000 from Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Baressi; $1,000 from former Louisiana state superintendent Paul Pastorek; smaller gifts from current and former Florida education commissioners Gerard Robinson and Eric Smith and from Jeb Bush.
It seems likely the Bush connection brought additional donors. Bennett reported more than 40 contributions of $150 or so from non-Indiana residents, most from Florida and Texas. Julie Southworth, finance director for the Bennett campaign, said the campaign’s contributions resulted from fundraisers and solicitations. She said that “people around the country see his (Bennett’s) focus on students and his passion for helping them succeed and want to support his re-election.”
Democrats will choose their candidate at the party’s convention June 15-17 in Fort Wayne. Justin Oakley, a Martinsville middle-school teacher and head of the local teachers’ association, is seeking the nomination. Joe Pearson, a former state representative from Grant County and the 2006 Democratic candidate for secretary of state, is rumored to be mulling the race.