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September 12, 2016

Photo credit: Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia Commons

When I was poring over the Sixty Day reports from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance trying to follow all the dark money in the Great Schools Massachusetts account, I despaired of my ability to explain exactly who is funding the pro-charter schools campaign. I thought it might help if I used examples from popular culture. So here it is, dark money explained in song, literature, and television, starting with a campaign theme song for Great Schools Massachusetts:

It’s Up to You New York, New York (Frank Sinatra, New York, New York)

Great Schools Massachusetts reported contributions of $8,185,305.32. Twelve contributors were responsible for $8,100,000.00 of that amount. The leading contributor, the 501(c)(4) dark money Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, kicked in $5,750,000.00, or 71% of the $8.1 Million. FESA, dark money Education Reform Now Advocacy (funder of dark money Democrats for Education Reform MA) , and Michael Bloomberg, all of New York, put in $6,240,000.00, or 77% of GSM’s receipts. Boston contributors, led by dark money 501(c)(4) Strong Economy for Growth with $650,000.00, put in $1,360,000.00. Here’s what that looks like:

Eighty-five percent of the contributions to Great Schools Massachusetts - from FESA and ERNA of New York ($6 million), and SEG and Great Schools for Massachusetts of Massachusetts ($900 thousand) - is untraceable dark money.

When it comes to the chances for success of Great Schools Massachusetts, “It’s up to you, New York, New York.”

The Curious Case of the Dog That Did Not Bark (Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, "Silver Blaze")

Back when the ballot committee backing charters was called Public Charter Schools for Massachusetts it had to file a 2015 year-end report. As I wrote in Great Schools or Great Scheme? that document revealed that the committee raised 98% of its $493,052.95 from just fourteen donors: thirteen flesh and blood types plus Strong Economy for Growth. Among the people who are people, most gave $40,000.00 each. Included among these contributors were such regular Republican donors as Seth Klarman and Joanna Jacobson, the President and Managing Partner of 501(c)(3) Strategic Grant Partners. A number of the Public Charter contributors are also steady contributors to SGP, as I discussed in The Hidden Money Behind Great Schools: Strategic Grant Partners. And Ms. Jacobson has been steering SGP’s generosity to other non-profit organizations with a political bent in recent years, including $800.000.00 in 2013 and $1,350,000.00 in 2014 to Families for Excellent Schools “to help launch organization in Massachusetts.”

But now, the dog has ceased to bark. With one exception, none of the Public Charter Schools for Massachusetts contributors is on the Sixty Day donor lists. It seems odd, after years of funding and strategizing, that they should all go quiet at once. Unless of course, a good deal of that New York money is really Boston money, shipped down to FESA in New York for a bit of darkening.

Good night, John-Boy The Waltons

The Waltons care, they really care! Not the warm family of the television show, but the Waltons who’ve inherited the WalMart fortune.

There is another pro-charter ballot committee that shouldn’t escape our attention, and this one is 80% funded by two WalMart heirs from Arkansas. Tim Walton and Alice Walton made separate contributions to the ballot committee Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools. Alice routed her contribution through yet another ballot committee, the Yes on 2 Committee, which then passed it on to the Campaign for Fair Access committee.

Do the Waltons care about poor kids in Worcester and Boston? Hard to say but WalMart and the Waltons do relish sticking it to unions.

Good night Tim. Good night Alice.

And good night democracy. What we have here is a plutocracy and what’s worse, it’s a secret plutocracy.

Addendum: In the charters debate held on the UMassBoston campus today, a funding question was posed to Great Schools MA representative Marty Walz. Ms. Walz responded in part that anyone concerned with big money from outside the state should go to the OCPF website where all donors are listed. True so far as it goes. OCPF will list donors to Great Schools MA but the citizen can only find out what smart sounding dark money group is fronting for its untraceable donors. That's no answer.

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, Great Schools Massachusetts

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