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November 04, 2016

I’m stumped.

I’ve tried to pay attention to the Question 2 debate but even though the issue has been raised several times, I’ve yet to hear proponents of Question 2 offer one solid reason why the voters of Massachusetts should not know, when casting their ballots, who has spent over $14 million dollars to influence their votes.

There have been some feeble attempts. In a debate with Senator Pat Jehlen, Liam Kerr of Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts (a front for unidentified New York hedge fund money) declined the bait but equated DFER spending with union spending. There’s no comparison between a few financial titans secretly giving millions, and thousands of union teachers paying their dues. There is some Democratic money on the dark side, but it will stay that way: dark.

Mr. Kerr also challenged Sen. Jehlen that other non-profits like Planned Parenthood should disclose their donors. Sure, she said. Case closed, except no disclosure forthcoming from DFER.

Then there was a debate between Mary Walz and Tito Jackson sponsored by the Boston Globe, WBUR, and UMass Boston. When Ms. Walz was asked about dark money, she responded “We’re delighted when anybody wants to step up and support our efforts . . .” but generally when you are delighted you at least thank the donors by name. Not so here. When pressed on the question of what dark money does to the health of our democracy by WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti, Ms.Walz responded in essence ‘you can look up the donors at OCPF, now back to the children.’ But when you go to OCPF what you see mostly is dark money contributors.

Ms. Charkrabarti, by the way, has been one journalist in Boston who has consistently asked tough questions about dark money. She invited the CEO of Families for Excellent Schools on her program, and issued invites to probable dark money givers Seth Klarman and Joanna Jacobson. None of them will explain themselves.

Would knowing that Mr. Klarman is a billionaire donor to right wing and Republican causes give voters something to think about?

There is a very good reason for the darkness. The wealthy donors’ consultants have no doubt told them, and social science research shows that “it matters whether an election message can be tied to the real messenger. . . .  When viewers learn more about an ad’s sponsor—that does not report its donors — they may become not only more skeptical about the ad’s message but also more critical of the ad’s intended beneficiary.”

So billionaires launder their money through positive, civic sounding fronts.

Whether you are in favor of Question 2 or opposed, you are a citizen of this democracy. You have a right to know the truth about who is paying for the glossy mailers and TV ads. You have a right to follow the money. You have a right to know who is spending millions to influence your vote. At least you do if we intend to maintain our democratic form of government.

There’s no excuse for dark money in a democracy.

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 other things). I don't write about charter schools, nor have I taken a position on them. I have taken a position against plutocracy and in favor of democracy, and thus against dark money.]

Democrats for Education Reform, dark money, Families for Excellent Schools, Great Schools Massachusetts

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