April 12, 2017

"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." - Louis D. Brandeis.

When dark money front Stand for Children forced teachers unions to limit seniority rights in 2012, it wasn’t acting as some idealistic band of do-gooders. Rather, Stand had rented out its name to a handful of Massachusetts plutocrats eager to transform education policy while remaining hidden from public view. But Stand for Children was also going to intervene in the Boston mayor’s race in 2013 – what happened there?

In August 2013 Stand for Children announced it would back the candidacy of John Connolly for mayor, pledging “between $500,000 and $750,000 ready to spend by Labor Day.” But under pressure from other mayoral candidates Connolly asked Stand not to spend on his behalf, and the organization acquiesced. Connolly and Marty Walsh emerged from the preliminary to face off in the November general election, and the Globe reported that Stand for Children “is widely believed to have more than $1 million at its disposal to support Connolly.” Stand didn’t spend it, however.

The 2013 mayoral race was a bacchanalia of dark money on both sides. The Globe reported that unions were the hidden treasure behind $2.5 million in spending on behalf of Marty Walsh. With Stand for Children mostly sidelined, Democrats for Education Reform expended $1.3 million in untraceable money on Connolly’s behalf.

Yesterday I showed that in 2011-2012 Stand for Children Inc. donated over $800,000 to the Committee for Excellence in Education to push a ballot initiative that forced teachers’ unions to bargain. The unions bent to a legislative compromise curtailing seniority rights and the initiative was withdrawn. But whereas the Committee was merely a vehicle of Stand for Children, Stand for Children was most likely merely a vehicle for another non-profit named Strategic Grant Partners and particularly three of the partners: Joshua Bekenstein, Joanna Jacobson, and Seth Klarman. They were the “true sources” of the funding.

So I’d expect to see those three figures as major givers to the political arm of Stand for Children in 2013. But none of the three partners who sustained the political arm of Stand for Children in 2012 – Bekenstein, Klarman, and Jacobson - gave one red penny to Stand for Children Inc. in 2013. 

That doesn’t help my theory but it doesn’t disprove it either. There were other political givers to Stand from Massachusetts in 2013 (especially Michael Krupka of Bain and Anne Kubik, regular donors who gave in the $100,000.00-$249,999 range) but they weren’t going to underwrite all of Stand’s spending plans. Bekenstein, Klarman, and Jacobson could write checks between a half a million to a million dollars at the drop of a hat. And here’s a telling quote about mayor’s race spending from Stand for Children’s Massachusetts director Jason Williams: “virtually all of our money that is spent in Massachusetts is raised in Massachusetts.’’

You know who that means.

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, Marty Walsh

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