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March 10, 2016

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with dark money seems to be the political strategy of Governor Charlie Baker. Whether it’s a political goal like tilting the Republican State Committee in his favor, or a policy goal like charter schools, it would be wise for citizens to follow the money – if only we could.

The governor was successful in his effort to eject enough extreme conservatives from the Republican State Committee in favor of his own candidates. We know, especially those of us in targeted districts, that we got a lot of mail and robo calls featuring Governor Baker in February and early March. What we don’t know is who paid for it all.

According to Baker taps wealthy donors in bid to shape Mass. GOP by the Boston Globe’s Frank Phillips, the governor held a number of small dinners to “hit up wealthy donors” for at least $300,000 to fund his campaign to gain control of the state committee. Some of the rich folk kicked in for ten thousand dollars. As the governor’s staff and state regulators agree, everything done here was perfectly legal and Governor Baker is under no obligation to identify the public spirited citizens who saw such potential in the usually obscure committee. But he could.

This is a good time to remind readers of Kinsley’s Law, from Michael Kinsley: in politics “the scandal isn’t what’s illegal, the scandal is what’s legal.”

Governor Baker’s big policy battle of the year is over charter schools and dark money is central – and not in the puny increments of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to the Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan in Charter school advocates launch $18 million effort, Great Schools Massachusetts “is poised to spend up to $18 million and obliterate state campaign spending records in favor of expanded charter schools.” Great Schools Massachusetts is an IRS 501 (c) group, which is supposed to be involved in politics only peripherally. But 501 (c) organizations use the designation as a fig leaf to engage in political activities, but as non-profit, tax exempt organizations they do not have to divulge their donors. That’s right – we’ll never know where that $18 million came from. The pictures and TV ads will be great – the wildly popular governor with cheering parents, signs, backdrops - but we'll never know who paid for it all. (According to various reports, it will be paid for by Wall Street hedge fund money – an odd source of concern for Holyoke students). Scroll down the distinguished list of the Great Schools Coalition and you’ll find even more 501 (c) organizations – dark money layered below dark money. Democracy in action!

A prime opportunity for the Democrats to seize the high road, you say. Not so much. In the Boston mayoral race, candidate Marty Walsh benefited from a late infusion of $480,000 in dark money from the phony One Boston Independent Expenditure PAC. After Walsh won, the American Federation of Teachers confessed to be the real money, the better to claim credit. Walsh’s opponent John Connolly was aided by $1.3 million from Democrats for Education Reform, which stayed dark. We still have no idea who those ardent citizens were. You will find Democrats for Education Reform among the Great Schools Coalition. I wrote after the mayoral election “The money is secret but the chutzpah, balls, cujones, (your adjective here) are right there. Amazing. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Stating you won’t vote for Donald Trump is all well and good but doesn’t much affect the future of Massachusetts. Being straight up with the source of the Great Schools Massachusetts money would. You don’t have to does not mean you can’t. Where’s that $18 million coming from? Governor Baker should answer.

"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." – Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Baker, Charlie

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