PAC spending on legislative races could influence next year’s education debates

They’re back. Hoosiers for Economic Growth, the political action committee that took credit for getting Indiana to enact sweeping education changes in 2011, is spending big money to ensure the Republican Party maintains or extends its majorities in the state House and Senate.

HEG spent three quarters of a million dollars in the pre-election period of April to October, according to its campaign finance report. Virtually all the money went to contributions to Republican legislative candidates. It gave exactly zero to Democrats.

Much of the group’s money, in turn, has come from the American Federation for Children, a national pro-voucher organization that shares an address with Terre Haute lawyer Jim Bopp, is run by conservative activists in Michigan and gets its money from East Coast hedge-fund managers and the Walton family.

Recall that HEG chairman Fred Klipsch boasted this summer that it and several affiliated groups spent $4.4 million to push through the 2011 education policies, including school vouchers, an expansion of charter schools, and performance-based evaluation and merit pay for teachers.

What kind of education votes in 2013 will HEG want in exchange for its campaign support? Maybe an even more generous voucher program? We can only guess.

A lot of the spending two years ago went to produce a Republican majority in the Indiana House to go with the GOP super-majority in the Senate. The idea was to offset contributions to Democrats by the Indiana State Teachers Association.

The ISTA is spending a lot this election too – nearly $1.5 million in the pre-election period. But only a small percentage of that has gone directly to legislative candidates. I-PACE has thrown in big behind Democratic candidates John Gregg for governor and Glenda Ritz for superintendent of public instruction.

And, having decided it needs friends in the majority, the teachers’ union is giving not just to Democrats but to Republicans, including Reps. Tim Neese, Tom Saunders and Randy Truitt and Sens. Vaneta Becker and Brent Waltz.

Waltz vs. Sullivan

The ISTA caused a furor this summer when it endorsed Waltz, who has a reputation as a conservative culture warrior, over Democrat Mary Ann Sullivan for a south-side Indianapolis Senate seat.

Critics said the ISTA backed Waltz to punish Sullivan for voting with Republicans on three of the four big 2011 education bills: charter schools, teacher evaluations and limits on collective bargaining. (She voted against vouchers; Waltz voted with fellow Republicans on all four bills).

It got less notice recently when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce endorsed Sullivan. But this was a big deal. It appears that no other Democrat on the November ballot got money from the chamber in the pre-election period.

Waltz had a more “pro-business” voting record than Sullivan this year, according to the chamber’s own analysis. But Waltz voted against the one measure that meant the most to the business group – the so-called right-to-work bill. So now he gets union money, while Sullivan gets help from the chamber and the New York hedge-fund managers with Democrats for Education Reform.

Stand for Republicans?

Another education organization, the Indiana affiliate of Oregon-based Stand for Children, filed this summer as a political action committee and is endorsing candidates.

Stand endorsed Republican Tony Bennett for re-election as Indiana superintendent of public instruction. It’s backing three “reform” candidates for Indianapolis Public Schools board. It endorsed six Republicans and two Democrats (including Sullivan) for central Indiana legislative seats.

Among the Republicans who won Stand’s backing as “education champions”: the conservative House speaker, Brian Bosma, and Rep. David Frizzell, the national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, recently in the news for its work to enact “stand your ground” and voter ID laws.

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One thought on “PAC spending on legislative races could influence next year’s education debates

  1. Pingback: PAC gets voucher money to Indiana candidates | School Matters

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