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

Indiana superintendent campaign finance: The rich vs. the many

Tony Bennett’s campaign donors are hedge-fund managers, charter-school developers, Big Tobacco and wealthy supporters of “education reform” and the Republican Party. Glenda Ritz’s are teachers and public-education advocates – hundreds of them – and the Indiana State Teachers Association.

Needless to say, fund-raising for the Indiana superintendent of public instruction race isn’t close. Ritz’s supporters give between $25 and $100 each. Bennett’s financial backers aren’t the 47 percent, or even the 99 percent. They give thousands of dollars apiece, sometimes tens of thousands.

Third-quarter campaign finance reports filed last week show Bennett had more than $1 million in his campaign account as of Oct. 1, which explains why we’re seeing him in TV ads, a first for a state superintendent candidate. Ritz had $42,000.

True, the Indiana State Teachers replenished Ritz’s fund with $65,000 this month. The teachers’ union has given Ritz $173,000, most of what she has raised. But that’s less than Bennett got in one check — $200,000 – from Alice Walton, a Wal-Mart heiress and supporter of school-choice and voucher plans.

Bennett’s other third-quarter contributors include: multi-billionaire home-builder Eli Broad ($50,000); Wisconsin businessman and voucher proponent Robert Kern ($50,000); Hoosiers for Economic Growth, whose money comes from New York and Philadelphia hedge-fund managers ($50,800); and Chicago hedge-fund manager Anne Griffin ($25,000).

He also got $10,000 from Red Apple Development, the real estate partner of Charter Schools USA, which Bennett’s Indiana Department of Education selected to take over three under-performing public schools in Indianapolis. He got $1,000 from the Reynolds American PAC – enough tobacco money to cancel out 20 typical Ritz donors. Continue reading

Another hedge-fund manager for Bennett

What is the deal with rich hedge-fund managers wanting to dictate how schools should be run for other people’s children? Can someone please explain this?

Today’s example: A campaign donation of $25,000 to Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett from Anne Griffin of Chicago. Who’s she? Anne Dias Griffin is the French-born head of Aragon Global Management, reportedly one of the largest hedge funds run by a woman. Her husband, Kenneth Griffin, is a hedge-fund manager who is said to be the second-richest person in Chicago.

Anne Griffin is also starting a digital media company that will focus on “political, educational and fiscal reform in Illinois and the Midwest,” the Chicago Tribune reports. The Tribune says the Griffins are among the biggest contributors to the Illinois Republican Party and have given more than $1.5 million to Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing PAC established by David and Charles Koch.

New York hedge-fund managers Daniel Loeb and Paul Singer, both big-time supporters of Republican candidates and causes, were previously on board for Bennett, who is running for re-election against Democrat Glenda Ritz.

But it’s not just Republican hedge-funders who buy into the ideology of charter schools, vouchers, merit pay for teachers, etc. Democrats for Education Reform, Ken Libby writes on his DFER Watch blog, is “supported largely by hedge-fund managers Continue reading

One-side fundraising in the campaign for Indiana schools chief

When it comes to money, the 2012 election contest for Indiana superintendent of public instruction is shaping up as Bambi vs. Godzilla.

Godzilla would be current superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican who was sitting on a campaign war chest of $549,758 as of the end of March and had established a network of donors that includes fabulously rich Wall Streeters and members of the education politics elite.

Democrats won’t choose Bambi until the state party convention in June. Justin Oakley, a Martinsville teacher and the one announced Democratic candidate, has $8,786.71 in his campaign account. He raised $6,142 in the first three months of the year, with no contribution bigger than $250.

Bennett, meanwhile, was raking in the cash. It looks like he hit the road in early February and, after some high-buck fundraisers, came back flush. His campaign brought in $67,484 between Feb. 2-14, almost 95 percent of it outside of Indiana.

Add three more large contributions this month — $10,000 from Carmel businessman Mike Weaver, $10,000 from New York hedge fund manager Paul Singer and $15,000 from the Fort Wayne-based Northeast Indiana PAC for Better Government LLC – and Bennett’s advantage is even more lopsided.

Bennett’s biggest donor has been Dean White, a Merrillville hotel developer. White gave the campaign $50,000 in March after having given another $50,000 in 2011. Also right up there is Daniel Loeb, another New York hedge-fund manager, who gave Bennett $25,000 in February. Loeb, described in media accounts as “notoriously prickly,” reportedly paid $45 million cash in 2007 for his penthouse unit at 15 Central Park West, a New York condo price record at the time.

It’s sort of touching, isn’t it, that Loeb apparently cares enough about Indiana children that he can take a break from making money and sending rude emails to competitors Continue reading