November 02, 2016

A curious aspect of this election season is the incuriosity of major institutions in the state about where all this dark money is coming from. The Boston Globe and the state’s chief executive have both generated their own clues about the source of the $14,000,000.00 in dark money sustaining the pro-charter campaign, but neither has shown much curiosity about what their own documents indicate.

Let’s start with the Globe. On August 20 the paper published a detailed story on dark money by Mark Levenson, Donors behind charter push keep to shadows. In a passage discussing Families for Excellent Schools, Mr. Levenson wrote: “In 2014, the group opened an office in Massachusetts, after receiving $700,000 from Strategic Grant Partners, a foundation that receives money from major donors including (Seth) Klarman, of the Baupost Group.” One week later the Globe published a four paragraph letter from Joanna Jacobson, Managing Director of Strategic Grant Partners, titled Area philanthropists’’ efforts should not be tarnished in debate over education policy. I urge readers to read the entire letter. I only emphasize the entire first paragraph, and the first sentence of the final paragraph:

Re “Donors behind charter push keep to the shadows” (Page A1, Aug. 20): The implication that Strategic Grant Partners is tied to so-called dark money is unfounded and poorly reflects the philanthropic work of our dedicated funders, who have historically played such an important role in the Commonwealth.

. . .

The idea that Strategic Grant Partners’ giving is tied to “dark money” is outrageous.

The “tied to” standard seems reasonable inasmuch as the very essence of dark money is to hide the identities of the givers. The Globe never followed up but I've shown that SGP is tied to dark money in the charters campaign, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. We also know that Ms. Jacobson, Mr. Klarman, and four additional Partners contributed on the record to Great Schools Massachusetts in 2015. None of them has appeared on OCPF reports in 2016.

Beyond that we have this email, released as part of a trove of 236 emails provided to the Globe by the administration in response to a Public Records Law request and embedded in the Globe’s story, Baker consultant wields influence on commuter rail, charter schools. Here is the email

Recipients and/or senders of these emails include aides to the governor, agents of Families for Excellent Schools, and a Republican finance consultant. Mr. Kittredge is CEO of Families for Excellent Schools. I have inferred that “JJ, and klarman” are Ms. Jacobson and Mr. Klarman of Strategic Grant Partners.

Caution: My inference regarding “jj, and klarman” is just an inference. I could be incorrect, but I believe it is a reasonable inference. We don’t know if “the charter event(s)” happened, or which, if any of these individuals, attended. But we do know there was an effort to schedule the events.

Then the International Business Times published Wall Street Firms Make Money from Teachers’ Pensions – And Fund Charter Schools Fight and in response the teachers unions called upon Great Schools Massachusetts to take down a TV advertisement featuring the governor. Frank Phillips of the Globe wrote about it in Teachers’ unions want charter school ad starring Baker removed. The governor remarked “I wasn’t aware of who gives or who doesn’t give on this stuff” and we can take that only in the very narrow context of the story.

Nonetheless, it is important that the governor be briefed on this stuff by his advisers. I wrote about the need to adequately inform the governor previously, concerning the case of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs staffers who had harassed a female employee whose fiancé was running against a Republican senator. I argued that the problem was not just with low level officials doing the harassing, but staffers in the executive suite not informing the governor.

For example, if Ms. Jacobson and Mr. Klarman were to attend charter events on May 27 and 30 with the governor and Mr. Kittredge, then the governor’s advisers should have briefed him about their identities and the purpose of the events. Since these were “charter event(s),” the governor should have been informed at least that Ms. Jacobson and Mr. Klarman both gave $40,000.00 to Great Schools Massachusetts in 2015.

As I wrote back on September 27, drawing on the work of political scientist Richard Neustadt, “A (governor) is helped by what he gets into his mind. His first essential need is information.” And I sure do wish the Globe had followed up on that September 27 letter from Strategic Grant Partners.

Louis D. Brandeis: "We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money, and not charter schools. I've never written about charter schools, nor taken a position on them. I have taken a position against plutocracy and in favor of democracy, and thus against dark money.]

dark money, Families for Excellent Schools, Great Schools Massachusetts

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