December 11, 2017

It looks like Banned-in Boston-Families for Excellent Schools may not be dead but resurrected. The outlaw outfit seems reincarnated in the form of Bay State Action Fund.   

Banned-in-Boston FES achieved that status by signing a Disposition Agreement with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance copping to the most serious campaign finance violations in state history. So its comeback wasn’t expected so soon. But it looks like FES is back in business in all but name only.

Consider the organization papers filed with the Secretary of State in March for Bay State Action Fund. The President is listed as Sarah Gaudette, the Treasurer and Clerk is Eileen O’Connor, and both are listed as Directors. Bay State Action Fund is probably a 501c4 (like FES Advocacy was) because at the same time a 501c3 (like FES Inc.) named Bay State Action Inc. filed, with Gaudette and O’Connor in the same positions. But then in November both organizations dropped Ms. O’Connor and replaced her with Camila Camborda as Treasurer and Clerk.

Ms. O’Connor is a partner at Keyser Public Strategies and was a spokesperson in 2016 for the Great Schools Massachusetts ballot committee. KPS earned $135,000 from GSM during the ballot campaign, money funneled through the FES dark money machine. Ms. Gaudette is the wife of the former Managing Director of Organizing at Families for Excellent Schools. Ms. Camborda was a Massachusetts Organizer for FES in 2016.

If you’d care to stop by for a visit, Bay State Action Fund’s offices are at the former headquarters of FES in Boston. This is very fortunate because in 2016 FES entered into a lease for the property that runs through 2021 and what with being given the death penalty and all, had little use for it. So BSAF is in, and it’s so hard to find good tenants these days!

My description of FES as “banned in Boston” isn’t entirely accurate. Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy was required by OCPF to disband, but FES Inc. only got four years during which it may not “engage in fundraising in Massachusetts, soliciting in Massachusetts, or engage in any ballot question or other election-related activity in Massachusetts.” In other words FES is banned from political campaign activities in Massachusetts; it isn’t banned from any “ed reform” activities. But the campaign ban ended FES’s run in the state because in reality it is a private political organization.

Thus in FES’s place we have Bay State Action. The 501(c)(3) version states in its organization papers that it will seek to train, engage, and educate citizens on civic engagement and equal opportunity, but not participate in propaganda, trying to influence legislation, or in a candidate campaign (but it says nothing about ballot measures). The 501c4 version, Bay State Action Fund, is less detailed in its statement, but as a 501(c)(4) we can expect it to become involved in political campaigns.

Bay State Action Fund will keep its donors secret unless forced to disclose by OCPF or another governmental entity. Even at that OCPF could not force disclosure until months after the 2018 elections, and the financial/privatization cabal funding the operation can absorb any financial penalty, go out of business, and return under a new name (and rent that office space FES has until 2021).

A good guess at the donors of an organization that looks like an FES front, with FES staff, in FES rental space, would be the plutocrats OCPF forced FES to disclose for their secret donations in the Question 2 campaign.

So many familiar faces. Massachusetts Parents United, another new advocacy front is headed by Keri Rodriguez, FES’s former state director. It is being funded by organizations controlled by FES contributors who unsuccessfully hid behind the dark money veil, including the Walton family and Charles Longfield (who also contributed to this year’s Mekka Smith campaign). This supposed mom and pop operation projects revenues of $1.2 million and expenditures of $800,000 this year.

Families for Excellent Schools reminds me of that old song by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks: “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

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.]

Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Massachusetts Parents United, Families for Excellent Schools, Bay State Action Fund

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