November 06, 2017

Over at Teach for America’s dark money political arm, Leadership for Educational Equity, they must be chortling at pulling a fast one on the voters of Malden. That’s where Ward 3 school committee candidate Mekka Smith filed amended disclosure forms – on the Friday before Election Day – showing how much hidden dark money TFA has showered on her campaign since August.

Leadership for Education Equity is a 501(c)(4) dark money outlet that is a spin-off of Teach for America. Ms. Smith’s amended disclosure forms show a contribution of $1,500 from LEE on August 31 and another contribution of $1,500 on September 13.  Neither of these contributions were disclosed on the candidate’s original filings, but you know how things can slide. Who among us hasn’t forgotten about getting three grand slipped to us in the past two months from out of state dark money interests?

You can find a good account of the dark money shenanigans in Malden from Pablo in a Bluemassgroup posting titled Malden Ward 3: It Gets Worse. I wrote about this last week in What’s Going On in Ward 3 Malden? Since LEE is a dark money front, neither the voters of Malden nor the rest of us will ever know who kicked in $3,000 in secret funding. Consider that in Massachusetts an individual may give only $1,000 to a candidate’s committee. But one billionaire could write a $3,000 check to LEE, which then passes it on to Ms. Smith’s campaign. Add the $3,000 to the $1,500 TFA has already invested in Ms. Smith and the total – excuse me, the total disclosed thus far – is $4,500. She has raised a total of $425 from Malden residents.

Candidate Smith’s amended filing for the period ending September 2 is now $5,710. Her amended filing for the period ending October shows $12,256. That brings her fundraising total – excuse me, the total disclosed thus far – to $17,966. In the last municipal election in 2015, just over 1,200 people voted in Ward 3 Malden.

It's a bit more serious than shoddy memories though. Both Ms. Smith and her treasurer signed the Form CPF 102 M Campaign Finance Reports attesting they were "a true and complete statement of all campaign finance activity." And they each signed under the "penalties of perjury." Here is the original September 11 attestation to the document omitting LEE's August 31 contribution of $1,500:

Here is the original October 30 attestation to the document omitting LEE's September 13 contribution of $1,500:

If you are wondering about LEE’s funding in Massachusetts, at least $700,000 of that came from Strategic Grant Partners. If you are wondering about TFA’s funding in Massachusetts, over $1.5 million came from Strategic Grant Partners. LEE is also the funder of Boston Education Action Network, a group aimed at undermining the Boston Teachers Union.

Some of the expenditures are a mystery too. Back on August 14 Ms. Smith paid $1,000 for “campaign consulting services” to Democracy Engine Contributions, but no address for that operation is listed and it barely even shows up on Google, except for getting $1,000 from Ms. Smith. The largest expenditure thus far seems to be a repayment of $2,874 to Ms. Smith for loans she made to her own campaign.

The voters of Ward 3 Malden have a legal right to honest and accurate information about who is spending to influence candidates for school committee. That right should have found its place on Ms. Smith’s original campaign finance reports, filed on September 11 and October 30. Instead, she kept that information secret until the Friday before Election Day. Ms. Smith and her dark money backers cheated Malden’s citizens of information they were entitled to have before voting.

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.]

Mekka Smith, dark money, Leadership for Educational Equity, Teach for America

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