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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-28-11 01:30 PM
Original message
School choice advocacy groups buying Dem votes in Florida House?
Florida state Dems got much money from school choice advocate groups. There is enough money mentioned to sway their votes in the favor of education reform. Money speaks loudly. More loudly than teachers and parents.

Hat tip to Susan Ohanian's blog for pointing out this research by the Florida Times Union.

From her blog:

Out-of-state school choice cash winning votes, splitting Democrats

This is ugly. And it's scary.Put "Federation for Children" into a search on my site, and 11 hits for American Federation for Children will come up. Reading them will make your skin crawl. You can only put 2 adjacent words into a search (little words like 'for' don't count)--and "American Federation" would bring up lots of other stuff too. The site search function works. You just have to learn how to choose your words.

Over the past five years, a multimillion-dollar effort by a small number of deep-pocketed school-choice advocates has tried to sway state-level elections and rewrite education laws across the country. Nowhere is the push more evident than Florida.

The small cadre of school-choice backers has been successful in swaying a bloc of Florida House Democrats to support issues largely opposed by their party and unanimously supported by Republicans. The donors are charter school board members, think-tank founders and investors with an eye for education reform.

Since 2006, roughly 15 of them from New York to California have funneled $233,651 to 25 Democratic candidates in Florida. In addition, two political action committees have spent $5.5 million buying mailers and conducting polls for candidates they support in Florida.

Winning candidates who received support often buck party lines on issues pushed by school-choice proponents. The biggest recipient is former House member and current state Senate candidate Terry Fields, a Jacksonville Democrat who since 2004 received $26,500.

I could not find Federation for Children on a search at Ohanian's site, but it was founded by Betsy DeVos.

Betsy Devos in the Running for the Billionaire Boys' Club Most Corrupt Member

When you're a billionaire woman in a billionaire man's world, the best way to get attention sometimes is to out-boy the boys. That's what Betsy Devos's of All Children Matter fame did a few years back when the astroturf group run by Amway's exploitation queen pumped tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of illegal dollars into the 2006 election pushing corporate education reform (vouchers and charters).

In fact, she was nailed by the Ohio Election Commission, which handed a $5.2 million fine to the sister of the dark Eric Prince of Blackwater fame (now building in the UAE mercenary armies for hire to the despots of the Middle East whenever the urge for democracy needs to be crushed).

Now Betsy has a new astroturf group called the American Federation of Children (get it?) that she uses to front the revival of school vouchers. With the containment vessel's lid blown off of political contributions by the Citizens United Decision and by the creation of Super Predators Pacs, Betsy is on a roll again, sending money any place she can find legislators or governors for sale on privatization issues close to that thing is in her chest that pumps blood.

Here is more detail from the Times Union article.

Contributions go to legislators favoring school choice measures.

A bloc of roughly 15 elected Democrats have consistently voted over the past two years in favor of school-choice priority bills: one to expand the McKay Scholarship, which allows disabled students to choose which school they attend; another expands virtual schools; and yet another further expands the income tax credit scholarship program.

In 2010, 20 Democrats voted for a bill that would pump an additional $22 million each year into the income tax credit scholarship, which allows companies to divert tax income to create scholarships for low-income students. Of those, 16 had received a total of $103,750 in campaign contributions from school-choice proponents since 2008. When lawmakers created the program in 2001, it received the support of only one Democrat.

Nearly two thirds of the money has gone to African-American candidates. Here is more about that. Jeb Bush started this targeting of minorities when he was governor, making them think that they could not get a good education in the public schools. That of course is not true.

The American Federation for Children, a nonprofit whose political action committee has spent nearly $5 million since early 2010, says the benefits of school choice in districts with poor public schools has led many black Democrats to jump party lines.

"I believe that the reason that African-American Democrats are receptive to the parental choice message is very simple: Their constituents strongly desire it," said John Kirtley, the group's vice chairman who heads its Florida branch.

...""We have a concern what is occurring is a very deliberate effort to resegregate the schools," said Ron Meyer, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association. "Many are taking these vouchers and going to unregulated and substandard public schools."

Yes, Florida charters and vouchers are resegrating our schools.

There is a side bar on the left of the article which has two sections. "Who Got What" and the "Main Money People". It lists the legislators who got the money and how much from whom.

Who got what

A group of Florida Democratic lawmakers have received more than $200,000 in campaign contributions since 2006 from out-of-state interests that back school choice. Those lawmakers have often vote in favor of legislation that expands school choice measures. They say their vote is about bringing choice to districts with poor public schools, not campaign cash.

- Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington: $5,000
- Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach: $17,000
- Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry: $5,450
- Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: $17,500
- Former Rep. Ronald Brise, D-North Miami; current member of the Public Service Commission: $13,500
- Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville: $7,000
- Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach: $9,850
- Former Rep. Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville; running for state Senate: $26,500; $41,000 to Florida Fresh Start, a political action committee he heads
- Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami: $5,450
- Former Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg: $12,451
- Pat Felder-Lockett, Jacksonville Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2008: $8,750
- Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole: $16,000
- Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa: $11,450
- Rep. Hazel Rogers, D-Lauderhill: $10,000
- Rep. Darryl Rousson, D-St. Petersburg: $8,000
- Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray: $5,750
- Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West: $13,750
- Former Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa: $6,500
- Sean Shaw, Tallahassee Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2010: $6,000
- Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach: $20,750
- Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek: $8,000

There are enough Democrats there to sway any legislation the way the reformers choose.

There are some interesting names under the donor section, including Howard Rich, David Brennan (head of White Hat Charters who has gotten his legislation passed in Ohio), and many other charter and choice advocates.

And of course Betsy DeVos figures prominently with the American Federation for Children.

- Betsy DeVos, Michigan: Former head of the Michigan Republican Party; started All Children Matter, a political committee that spent $2.6 million in Florida before folding; founded second PAC, American Federation for Children. Groups has spent nearly $5 million nationwide, and $900,000 in Florida since early 2010.

- John Kirtley, Tampa: American Federation for Children, vice-chair. $25,000 to Florida candidates since 2007; $80,000 to American Federation for Children; $24,000 to Florida Fresh Start, PAC run by former Rep. Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville; $32,500 to All Children Matter. Also founded the Florida Committee for Educational Freedom; spent $15,177 between 2006 and 2008.

The comments after the Times Union article are interesting to read, but they show how quickly any intelligent discussion can deteriorate.

So with Republicans firmly entrenched in the legislature here, and with Democrats getting huge amounts from school choice groups, not to mention Rick Scott as governor...this state should be heaven for school reformers.

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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat May-28-11 02:50 PM
Response to Original message
1. DeVos doesn't take offense that they are "buying influence" She admits it.

"Or consider Greg Brock, the American Federation For Childrens Executive Director, who just happens to also be Executive Director of a group called All Children Matter, which lobbies for vouchers: again, for public subsidies of private, for-profit education. Betsy Devos is at the head of All Children Matter; according to, she once admitted that her financial support for politicians like Senator Hopper is motivated entirely by a quid pro quo:

I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return. Betsy DeVos (Roll Call, 1997)

Finally, its interesting to note that All Children Matter was apparently bankrolled back in 2004 by Wal-Mart heir John Walton. Just what we need: publicly funded but privately owned Wal-Marts of education! When that robo-call from the American Federation For Children today warned me about unnamed special interests that dont have the welfare of children in mind, it was right."

Here is more from PFAW about All Children Matter...the two groups apparently both run by DeVos.

"Dick and Betsy DeVos started All Children Matter (ACM) in the spring of 2003, to recruit, train and fund candidates who will promote vouchers across the country. Today, ACM Inc, a federal "527" organization, is the lead organization of a network of affiliates classified as state or federal Political Action Committee's (PACs), which can donate money directly to and campaign on behalf of political candidates. With its base of wealthy funders and ability to stealthily intervene in local, state and federal political races, the ACM network is an effective tool for the movement to privatize public education.

All Children Matter was started to fund pro-voucher political candidates

Aside from donating directly to campaigns, ACM also funds slick 'issue ads' that heavily favor pro-voucher candidates.

In 2004, ACM paid for fliers in support of President Bush's re-election campaign in Florida. The fliers do not mention vouchers, privatization or even the Right's favorite euphemism "school choice." The flier falsely claimed that Senator John Kerry "opposed equal opportunity in education" and stated that President Bush supported increased education funding. Campaign finance laws require political groups to clearly identify themselves on their ads. Though the phrase "no matter what, All Children Matter" appears at the bottom of the flier, ACM inc. does not explicitly claim responsibility for it.

...In the summer of 2004, the estate of Wal-Mart heir John Walton donated more than $2 million to All Children Matter-Virginia, which, according to the Virginia Public Access Project promptly funneled money to an affiliate group in Florida. The Florida group then spent that money to support pro-voucher candidates in the state, without having to disclose the individuals who donated it. Relevant disclosure forms for the Florida groups will show only that money came in from All Children Matter-Virginia, with no disclosure of a connection to the Walton family. All Children Matter-Virginia appears to be the centerpiece of this scheme. ACM-VA is seeing an unprecedented cash flow even though it can only spend money in Virginia on state races and there are none in 2006. ACM-VA acts a conduit to stealthfully distribute money to other states."

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Jakes Progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 11:04 PM
Response to Reply #1
6. Wrong place.
Edited on Sun May-29-11 11:04 PM by Jakes Progress
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Starry Messenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 11:40 AM
Response to Original message
2. k&r
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Snoutport Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 11:41 AM
Response to Original message
3. I shared that first article on my facebook. K & R
It seems I always end up sharing stuff you post!
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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 11:57 AM
Response to Reply #3
4. Well, you know what they say...
about great minds? :)
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sulphurdunn Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 03:23 PM
Response to Original message
5. Politicians
are absolutely the best return on investment for your money. Where else can you invest a few thousand or million and get hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in risk free return?
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Jakes Progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun May-29-11 11:05 PM
Response to Original message
7. Kick. Though if Dems sell our children so easily,
what good will it do to tell it here? When republicans take money to vote against the people, it is seen as a terrible, heinous crime. When Dems do so, we get only silence and avoidance.

The corporate American school system will be Obama's legacy. That those who consider themselves Democrats acquiesced so silently (even defended it) is to our shame.
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russspeakeasy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-30-11 02:17 PM
Response to Original message
8. Thanks for all your hard work mad.
I don't know if it can be stopped, but at least, because of
you, we are aware of it. Thanks.
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madfloridian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-30-11 02:23 PM
Response to Reply #8
10. I don't think it can be stopped.
There are no leaders speaking out against it, and the media is all for the corporations' desire to control. It's who they are actually.

It's like a steamroller, hard to stop.
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Starry Messenger Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-30-11 02:20 PM
Response to Original message
9. Hmm, I thought this thread would get more attention from certain quarters.
Hell, Democratic education deform outfits also have their own donation program for D candidates. I guess it was a short step to taking R money to destroy schools.
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russspeakeasy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon May-30-11 02:46 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. It's just easier.
It beats thinking.
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Freddie Stubbs Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jun-01-11 02:45 PM
Response to Original message
12. Many of these legislators represent districts with many poor families
These families are demanding better options for their children.
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