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

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Indiana schools chief Bennett has big head start in election fund-raising

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 Continue reading