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October 23, 2017

Last year Massachusetts voters were cheated out of their legal right to see the names of the top five contributors to the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee by the perfidy of the outlaw Families for Excellent Schools. Television ads must include a disclosure of the top five contributors, but GSM’s were a long way from honest.

Here’s an example of a disclaimer, from the last ad run.

Voters saw this: four dark money fronts and a ballot committee funded by corporate money.

But since the campaign we’ve learned a lot about the cabal that really funded the campaign, thanks to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance forcing now banned-in-Boston FES to obey Massachusetts law. So I recalculated the top five donors for this mock-up of the ad disclosure that Massachusetts voters had a right to see – but didn’t:

Now that’s a big difference – one dark money operation and four of Massachusetts’ wealthiest families. Why, even the Globe might have noticed!

For the record, the contributions were FESI, $3.7 million; Klarman, $3.3 million; Jacobson, $2.04 million; Hostetter, $2.02 million; Bekenstein, $1.79 million.

After OCPF brought FES to justice the Globe did notice. Frank Phillips wrote a story about Mr. Hostetter lobbying the Baker administration to block construction of a hotel next to his office just about the time he was secretly slipping $2 million into FES’s money laundering shop. So Mr. Hostetter’s name on the ad disclosure would have been inconvenient, to say the least.

Had voters seen the honest disclosure they’d have realized that the campaign wasn’t coming from parents and educators but from a handful of Massachusetts plutocrats.  Why not just disclose them anyway? Because as political scientists Conor Dowling and Amber Wichosky have shown, if a campaign’s true dark money backers become known, support hemorrhages.

After disclosure the largest contributor was still a dark money front, Families for Excellent Schools Inc. (distinct from Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy). FESI’s political spending may yet have it in trouble with the IRS or state regulators. It’s likely that FESI was funded by some of the names you see above.

It’s no surprise to see the names Klarman, Bekenstein, and Jacobson here. They are the SGP Big 3, the core of the secret privatization investments of Strategic Grant Partners.

Strong Economy for Growth got bumped, but that dark money operation was still worth over $1 million, and also has ties to Mr. Klarman.

It was a tough call not to put Jim and Alice Walton of the WalMart clan on the list. Alice gave $710,000 to the Yes on 2 Committee, which then was shuffled around in the three card monte game played by the privatizers. She also was unmasked as a dark money FESA giver, for another $750,000. And cousin Jim gave $1,125,000 to the Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools ballot committee. But a good deal of that WalMart lucre slouched over to another front maintained by dark money pass-through Democrats for Education Reform MA. The WalMarts are still in the game as investors in Fortune 500 Astroturf front Massachusetts Parents United.

Let me stress this. Massachusetts voters, you had a legal right to truthful disclosure of accurate information before you voted. Great Schools Massachusetts and Families for Excellent Schools cheated you out of that right.

The Washington Post recently adopted a new slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness.” I agree.

[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 education policy.]

Strategic Grant Partners, dark money, Families for Excellent Schools, Great Schools Massachusetts

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