While Indiana legislators make their usual mischief at the Statehouse, it’s a good time to look back to the 2014 elections and recall who helped them win office.
And when we focus on education, that would primarily be Hoosiers for Quality Education for the Republicans and the Indiana State Teachers Association for the Democrats. Both spent a bunch of money trying to influence key elections, especially where the campaigns centered on education.
You might think they’re two sides of the same coin, each trying to push Indiana election policy. But there’s an important difference – in where their money comes from and whom they represent.
The ISTA contributes to election campaigns through its political arm, the Indiana Political Action Committee for Education. The committee gets nearly all its money from Indiana teachers and education support staff who voluntarily donate $24 a year. Hoosiers for Quality Education, on the other hand, gets most of its funding from a few wealthy people – many of them non-Hoosiers — who support a free-market approach of education.
Based on campaign finance reports that were posted recently, Hoosiers for Quality Education spent $690,000 on the 2014 elections, nearly all of it in contributions to Republican candidates and committees. I-PACE spent almost $1.3 million, most of it going to Democratic candidates.
Half of Hoosiers for Quality Education’s money came from the American Federation for Children, which funnels money to organizations that back school vouchers and charter schools in Indiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Its leader is Michigan GOP activist Betsy DeVos.
American Federation for Children’s 2014 contributions included:
- Over $900,000 from Jim Walton and Alice Walton, part of the family that owns Wal-Mart.
- Nearly $200,000 from William Obendorf, a California investment banker and founder of the Alliance for School Choice (American Federation for Children’s sister organization).
- $130,000 from Betsy DeVos and her husband, whose father founded Amway.
- $100,000 from New Jersey resident Virginia James, a co-founder of the conservative Club for Growth political group.
Hoosiers for Quality Education, formerly called Hoosiers for Economic Growth, also got $100,000 from its long-time leader Fred Klipsch, who once boasted of raising $4.4 million to push through the Mitch Daniels-Tony Bennett education agenda in 2011. And smaller donations — $20,000 to $30,000 – from several Indiana Republican donors.
The organization is working to influence what happens at the Statehouse, from staging a rally in support of school choice to lobbying on legislation. Along with the outside money, it’s reportedly getting help from former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a consultant to the group.
Readers may want to keep this in mind when their local charter school asks them to join with Hoosiers for Quality Education in lobbying the legislature to give charter schools and private schools a bigger share of Indiana’s pot of education money.
Taking the money and hating it
A lot of the money the two groups raised went into the District 62 House race, where Republican Matt Ubelhor held off Democratic challenger Jeff Sparks in an education-focused election. Ubelhor spent nearly a half million dollars, much of it from the House Republican campaign committee; and Sparks spent half that much. Ubelhor won, as did most Republicans in contested races.
“I hate it,” Ubelhor told the Bloomington Herald-Times, speaking of the campaign spending. “I wish there was some way it was limited, but it’s not.”
But presumably no one was holding a gun to the representative’s head and forcing him to take and spend the money. And surely no one was making him sign off on nasty TV ads and mailers that attacked Sparks and misrepresented his own record.
Stand for Children’s secret campaign stash
The campaign finance reports tell us a lot about who was backing whom, but they don’t tell us everything. Case in point: The Indianapolis Public Schools board election, where the advocacy group Stand for Children supported a slate of candidates friendly to its positions on education.
Stand for Children refused to reveal how much money it was spending or where it came from. Instead it funded the effort as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization, exempt from campaign finance reporting.
As the Center for Responsive Politics explains, 501(c)4 groups have proliferated in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. They’re handy for organizations that don’t want to make public where their backing comes from. Why that should be the case for a school board election is a mystery.