School choice group bankrolled campaign

I still hope Jennifer McCormick turns out to be a good superintendent of public instruction, one who looks out for students, teachers and public schools. But my optimism takes a hit when I look at her campaign finance reports for this year’s election.

McCormick got a big surge of late cash — $100,000 in October – from Hoosiers for Quality Education, the pro-voucher and anti-union organization started by Carmel businessman Fred Klipsch. In 2016, the group gave the Republican candidate $130,000, more than one-third of all she raised.

Hoosiers for Quality Education, despite its name, isn’t a grass-roots organization of Indiana folks advocating for better schools. Its funding comes from a handful of big donors, many of them out of state. They include Red Apple Development, a sister company of Florida-based Charter Schools USA, and K-12 Management, a for-profit that runs online charter schools.

Over the years, much of the group’s money has come from the American Federation for Children, a group headed by the Michigan Republican activist Betsy DeVos, reportedly a leading contender to be named secretary of education by President-elect Donald Trump.

The American Federation for Children PAC restocked its coffers this year with over a half million dollars from DeVos and her husband Dick, an Amway heir, and $300,000 from Alice and Jim Walton, two of the siblings who own over half of Walmart. It got $100,000 from Tennessee GOP rainmaker James Haslam. Continue reading

Dark money clouds IPS election

Stand for Children is at it again. The Oregon-based education advocacy group is spending big money to determine who gets elected to the Indianapolis Public Schools board.

That in itself could be cause for concern. But what’s really troubling is that the amount Stand for Children is spending and the source of its money are being kept secret.

If you or I give more than $100 to a candidate for school board or any other public office, the contribution is made public. And candidates have to report how they spend campaign money. But Stand for Children is carrying out a so-called independent campaign in support of the slate of IPS candidates endorsed by its Indianapolis branch. So under the law, it doesn’t have to tell us anything.

It is sending glossy mailers to residences in the IPS district, an expensive undertaking that you might expect in a race for mayor but not in a school board election. It did the same thing in the 2014 IPS election, and its favored candidates won by overwhelming margins.

Judging by the limited and vague information Stand for Children reports to the Internal Revenue Service on its Form 990, it’s a safe bet the organization spent $200,000 or more in Indy in 2014. The report says it paid an Indianapolis firm over $140,000 for printing and mailing services. It also reportedly paid individuals to stand at the polls and hand out fliers on Election Day.

That would be in line with what the group reported spending this year on school board elections in Nashville, Tenn., where it is now facing complaints that it violated campaign finance laws.

But Jim Scheurich, part of the local Our IPS group that is pushing back against Stand and endorsing a different slate, estimates the group is spending considerably more than that this year in Indianapolis. Continue reading

Pence’s big donors include charter, voucher advocates

As the Indianapolis Star reported last week, Gov. Mike Pence raked in more than $800,000 in large campaign contributions in the weeks leading up to a July 1 fundraising deadline.

The bulk of the money came from wealthy business officials, many of them with ties to the coal, utility, road construction and nursing home industries. But some big donations came from supporters of education policies that Pence has championed. They include:

  • $25,000 from Fred Klipsch of Carmel, founder and chairman of Hoosiers for Quality Education, a leading pro-voucher organization. Klipsch boasted in 2012 that he had put together the campaign funding to overcome teacher opposition and push through legislative approval of the Mitch Daniels-Tony Bennett education agenda, including vouchers and charter schools.
  • $25,000 from John D. Bryan of Lake Oswego, Ore., a retired business executive known as a major donor to national conservative PACs like Freedom Works and the Club for Growth. He is founder and director of Challenge Foundation, which operators several charter schools, including the Indianapolis Academy of Excellence. He has given nearly $600,000 to Republican campaigns in Indiana, including $145,000 to Pence’s campaigns for governor.
  • $10,000 from Roger Hertog of New York, former chairman of the Manhattan Institute and a donor to national conservative causes. Hertog has contributed to Success Academy and other charter schools and commissioned a study of benefits of New York charter schools.
  • $10,000 from Robert L. Luddy of Raleigh, N.C., who runs a group of private schools and who provided much of the campaign financing for school board candidates who overturned a model school desegregation program in Wake County, N.C., schools.

Three Democrats, former House Speaker John Gregg, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and state Sen. Karen Tallian, are seeking to challenge Pence. Gregg raised over $400,000 in large contributions in the weeks leading up to July 1. Tallian listed only a $20,000 transfer from her state senate campaign fund. Ritz reported no large contributions.

Candidates are required to file reports of their complete campaign fund-raising and spending for the first half of 2015 by July 15. Large donations – those of $10,000 or more – must be reported within a week of when they are received.

Teachers union and advocacy group – not two sides of same coin

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. Continue reading

Bennett outspent Ritz 5-to-1

The results are in: Tony Bennett outspent Glenda Ritz by more than 5-to-1 in the 2012 campaign for Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

Ritz, of course, won the election: a shocking upset that got noticed around the country. The Democratic challenger polled 1,332,755 votes to 1,190,716 for Bennett, the Republican incumbent and darling of advocates for market-based education reform.

According to campaign finance reports filed this week, Bennett spent $1,866,741 on his campaign during 2012, an unheard-of sum for a down-ticket race. Ritz spent $341,873, which is closer to what you’d expect for this office.

Bennett has been telling news media that he knew he might lose, because the changes he implemented were difficult but necessary. And it’s true – you don’t raise and spend the kind of money that he did unless you think you’re in a race.

But the outcome was still startling. Candidates just don’t win statewide elections when they are outspent 5-to-1. Ritz pulled it off with an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, unified backing from teachers and their friends and supporters, and innovative use of social media to organize and rally the troops.

Politics watchers will be talking about this one for years.

Pyramids and politics

The New York Times reports that hedge-fund king Daniel S. Loeb is backing the Herbalife company against accusations that it’s a pyramid scheme. That pits him against his friend and rival, William Ackman, in what one source calls a “battle bigger than any sumo pairing.”

Of course, Loeb backed former Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett, too, with a $25,000 campaign contribution. Maybe Herbalife should worry, given the way that turned out.

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? Continue reading