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June 07, 2017

Updating the Dark Money Reader means I have to go back and look at past posts. Three aspects of researching and posting on dark money stand out. First, though I believe that the magnitude of the threat from a few wealthy individuals attempting to commandeer policy is a vast threat to our democracy, the dark money story in Massachusetts has garnered little attention (except here; and maybe I’m wrong?). Second, while much attention went toward 2016’s ballot Question 2 on charter schools, my continuing research into the spending by wealthy individuals associated with Boston charity Strategic Grant Partners suggests a long term effort to undermine teachers unions (and yes as an educator in the UMass system I am a union member). Third, insofar as I can follow the money trail – and it is literally tens of millions of dollars – it all leads back to Strategic Grant Partners and its wealthy donors.

So here is your updated Dark Money Reader, mostly my past posts with some others I’ve found useful. If you have good dark money or philanthrocapitalist articles you don’t see here, send it along. Happy reading, though if you care about democracy it won’t be too happy.

Philanthrocapitalists Brandish BEANball at BTU June 6, 2017 If you want to see into the future don’t gaze into a crystal ball. Instead, download Strategic Grant Partners publicly available tax returns. SGP’s 2014 and 2015 returns reveal it put over $4 million into funding start-ups for organizations that are attacking teachers unions. Unfortunately there is a two year lag in the availability of SGP’s returns but it looks more and more like the heart of its effort is to undermine unions.

Unmasking the Philanthrocapitalists Who Almost Bought Massachusetts Schools May 31, 2017 Back in February when I urged Office of Campaign and Political Finance to follow its own precedent to require the “true sources” of Great Schools Massachusetts dark money to reveal themselves, I recognized one possible defense for the practitioners of the dark arts. But recent scholarship about the political activities of “philanthrocapitalists” shows that the type of folks behind Massachusetts dark money don’t get to use that defense.

Why Political Media Need to Be More Aggressive in Reporting About “Dark Money” May 17, 2017 Getting to the bottom of dark money isn’t easy – I’m an authority on that. But the risk of unlimited and unaccountable money for our policy and politics is fathomless. Massachusetts media – especially the Globe, which has done almost nothing – need to report aggressively on dark money.

Sympathy for the Privileged April 27, 2016 The dark money check writers behind the odious Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance (winner of the coveted 2015 Fraud in Massachusetts Politics Award) head to the Supreme Judicial Court with the absurd claim that the rich are disadvantaged in Massachusetts politics.

Dark Money Sharks Circled 2013 Boston Mayor’s Race April 12, 2017 What a coincidence! It looks like the same dark money Boston billionaires behind the proposed 2012 ballot question opposing union interests and the 2016 charters ballot question also secretly backed John Connolly in the 2013 Boston mayor’s race.

Dark Money Sharks Devour Mass. Education Policy April 11, 2017 The conspiracy of Boston billionaires to commandeer Massachusetts education policy didn’t start with Great Schools Massachusetts/Families for Excellent Schools in 2015-16, but with Stand for Children and another union busting ballot question in 2011.

Kochs, Health Care and Taxes: Connecting the Dots March 29, 2017 The initial death (before the zombie rebirth) of repeal and replace was in part owing to the dark money influence of those two American patriots, Charles and David Koch.

Dark Money: Of Foreign Pelf and Russian Nesting Dolls February 22, 2017 It's a disturbing fact: when we're talking dark money in Massachusetts politics, we're talking covert money from offshore interests.

Dark Money: Pro-Charter Fat Cats Took a Page From Offshore Gambling Tycoons February 16, 2017 The Office of Campaign and Political Finance used its powers to require the foreign dark money backers of 2016’s Question 1 on slots parlors to come clean. I read OCPF’s Disposition Agreement in that case and realized it also applies to Great Schools Massachusetts and Families for Excellent Schools. Yes, OCPF has the power to make those entities reveal the true source of their dark millions. I even helpfully pointed OCPF toward the identities of the true sources. Open and shut case.

Democrats Using Republican Money for Education Reform Now to Advance Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools December 14, 2016 The Obama’s Legacy committee, a front for a front for a front for a front, appeared late in the campaign, fronting in the first degree for Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. (I promise to return to tracing DFER’s money when time permits).

Charlie Baker Rewards a Dark Money Banker December 12, 2016. Travel with the governor on an overseas junket is always helpful to business, and one of the lucky ones for Governor Baker’s visit to Israel was a cyber security firm CEO who dabbles in dark money in his spare time.

Yankees Suck! Yankees Suck! December 5, 2016. Twenty million dollars in dark money poured into Massachusetts from New York on Question 2, and all the New Yorkers came away with was a familiar chant. (Silly me, it was only later that I realized that most of that money originated in Massachusetts, traveled to New York for a little wash-rinse-spin, and then come back to Great Schools Massachusetts.)

#Mapoli Winners and Losers 2016 November 16, 2016 Among the winners was WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti, who stood out among only a few journalists who paid any attention at all to dark money. Among the losers was The Boston Globe, which acted like Inspector Clouseau, “I did not know the bank was being robbed because I was engaged in my sworn duty as a police officer.”

Democracy Is on the Ballot November 7, 2016 In which I urged proponents and opponents of Question 2 to put aside their differences and vote against dark money and in favor of democracy.

Excusing Dark Money November 4, 2016 I tried to pay attention to the Question 2 debate but even though the issue was raised several times, I never heard proponents of Question 2 offer one solid reason why the voters of Massachusetts should not know, when casting their ballots, who had spent over $20 million in dark money to influence their votes.

An Incurious Election November 2, 2016 Despite evidence that the dark money behind the Great Schools Massachusetts campaign was tied to Boston based philanthrocapitalists, neither the Boston Globe nor Governor Baker seemed very interested in the source of the money. Odd indeed, since Governor Baker had been meeting with the hedge fund backers of the measure.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Never Smarten Up a Chump November 2, 2016 Among the pots of gold exploited by givers to Question 2: the pensions of Massachusetts teachers, and the American taxpayer. Reflections on an International Business Times article Wall Street Firms Make Money from Teachers Pensions – And Fund Charter Schools Fight. Oh, and the Wall Streeters also get to work around SEC rules on contributing to candidates by contributing instead to Governor Baker’s most important cause.

Dark Money: A Threat That Keeps Perverting Our Political System November 1, 2016 Dark money political committees from all across the country that threaten our democracy (including a few I made up).

The Crooked Path of Democrats for Education Reform October 31, 2016 DFER MA, the front for a front for a front, was being fronted on Question 2 by the Advancing Obama’s Legacy ballot committee. I reflected on the irony of the historical backbone of the Democratic Party, unions, being under assault from moneyed Democrats. (Though as we shall see, Advancing Obama’s Legacy got plenty of Republican money, too).

Breaking: Keyser Client Endorses Keyser Client October 28, 2016 PR guru Will Keyser’s client The Boston Globe endorsed Keyser client Question 2.

New Information on Dark Money Donors to Great Schools Massachusetts October 26, 2016 Emails obtained (but not reported upon) by The Boston Globe show that Strategic Grant Partners contributors Joanna Jacobson and Seth Klarman were deeply involved in the Question 2 campaign, including meetings with Governor Baker.

Grassroots, Fortune 500 Style October 25, 2016 The mark of a grass roots campaign is the ability to gather signatures and canvas. Great Schools Massachusetts, had little community support and thus little grassroots. Thus GSM paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to corporate grass roots firms to pay canvassers to make it appear like they had some support. It was Grassroots, Fortune 500 style.

Playing Three Card Monte with Dark Money October 21, 2016 An update on the tangle of committees playing three card monte with dark money in the Question 2 campaign. A new entrant emerged, Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools. It was a front for DFER MA, which is a front for Education Reform Now, which is a front for hedge funders we may never be able to identify. That makes Advancing Obama’s Legacy a front for a front for a front.

Misunderestimating Dark Money Great Schools Massachusetts of New York October 14, 2016 Steve LeBlanc of AP (who does a good job on dark money) reported on rising totals of dark money going to Great Schools MA. I noted that we may never find out the true sources of the money so don’t get cheeky and argue that you as a citizen has a right to know who is trying to purchase the state’s education system.

Dark Money Spenders: Boardroom Progressives or Rich People’s Movement? October 12, 2016 Since we’re not permitted to know which billionaires are funding Great Schools Massachusetts let’s turn to social science theory to help understood their possible motives. Are the hidden funders “Boardroom Progressives” or fronting a “Rich People’s Movement to Untax the One Percent”?

New Campaign Paraphernalia for Great Schools Massachusetts October 6, 2016 A new campaign finance reports shows an infusion of almost $2 Million in dark money to Great Schools Massachusetts from its parent Families for Excellent Schools of New York. Why spend all that money on TV when new bumper stickers could capture the true spirit of Great Schools’ mysterious patrons?

Billionaires vs. Unions: Not All Money Is Created Equal October 4, 2016. Pro-charters advocates often equate their dark money spending with union spending in opposition to Question 2. But the union spending depends on money contributed in small amounts by thousands of teachers. Great Schools Massachusetts depends on millions of dollars contributed by a handful of hedge fund financiers hidden behind the cloak of dark money Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy.

Breaking: Court Holds FEC Applied Wrong Test to See if Koch-Allied Groups are Breaking Law by Not Registering as Political Committees Rick Hasen, Electionlawblog.org September 19, 2016 America’s leading scholar of election law writes that “There’s still a long road here, but it is possible that the FEC will finally be forced to treat these sham Super PACs as political committees and force disclosure of election-related spending.” The court decision is here.

Democracy is for Adults (and everyone else). September 16, 2016. I argue that anyone who cares about democracy – Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, pro or anti charter – should care about what dark money is doing to Massachusetts’ democracy.

New Campaign Song for Great Schools Massachusetts: ‘It’s Up to You, New York, New York’. September 12, 2016. Analysis of OCPF filings for ballot committees shows that Great Schools Massachusetts funding actually comes from dark money outfits based in New York.

The Pat Jehlen-Liam Kerr Debate: A New Paradigm in Politics? September 7, 2016. I reflected upon two rationales given for dark money by Mr. Kerr of dark money Democrats for Education Reform and came away unimpressed.

The checks are pouring into the charter fight, but who’s signing them. Michael Levenson. The Boston Globe. August 20, 2016.  Mr. Levenson does an excellent job running through what we know about the dark money givers in the charter campaign. Unfortunately, while dark money has garnered mentions in a few Globe articles since, the August 20 article is the only comprehensive look at dark money in the paper of record.

Charlie Baker Gives the Democrats a Wedgie. August 16, 2016. I noted that the charter school issue divides Democrats while Governor Baker sits back and enjoys the pro-charter dark money advantage.

Dark Money in the Great Schools MA TV Ad. August 10, 2016. Great Schools MA bought $2.3 million in television ads during the Olympics, but who paid for them? You’ll nevah know, sucka.

The Hidden Money Behind Great Schools: Strategic Grant Partners. August 2, 2016. This post argued that the Great Schools campaign began several years ago, through a Boston non-profit named Strategic Grant Partners. Michael Levenson picked up on that in a Globe article and the Managing Partner of SGPO, Joanna Jacobson wrote a letter to the editor stating that “The idea that Strategic Grant Partners’ giving is tied to ‘dark money’ is outrageous.” I’ll get back to the letter soon.

Some Light on Massachusetts Dark Money? July 11, 2016. Common Cause celebrated a new law on dark money; but every party needs a popper, and that’s me.

Polishing the Apple: Examining Political Spending in New York to Influence Education Policy Common Cause New York June 2015 Dark money hedge funders and unions battle it out in new York privatization fights. The whole purpose of dark money is to hdie the identities of the donors, but Common Cause does a good job ehre of identifying the board members of various dark money fronts.

Good Night, Democracy. May 19, 2016. Dark money front Democrats for Education Reform spends big in a special election senate primary.

Better Read Those Letters, Governor Baker. May 3, 2016. The Republican Party sends out a fund raising letter that looks suspiciously like play for pay.

Dark Money Funding for the Department of Dubious Research. April 22, 2016. Strategic Grant Partners pays for a research study and – voila! – the study reflects negatively on the Boston Teachers Union.

Trust in Politics: Lessons from 1st Suffolk & Middlesex. April 14, 2016. Dark money Democrats for Education Reform and unions both use dark money in a special election for a senate seat. Who can a voter trust?

DFER Brings Dark Money to the 1st Suffolk and Middlesex Senate Race. April 11, 2016. That canvasser at your door isn’t much enthused about the candidate, but is certainly grateful to dark money Democrats for Education Reform for the paycheck.

Charlie Baker: Dark Money, Charter Schools, And Teacher Unions. March 28, 2016. My suspicions were raised when the Great Schools coalition listed Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, winner of the 2015 Award for Fraud in Massachusetts Politics, as a supporter. I praised the Globe’s coverage and wrote “I hope this inaugurates a sustained effort to shine a light on dark and shadowy big money in politics.” It didn’t.

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York’s Public Schools—Here’s Their Story. George Joseph, The Nation March 19, 2015 Fire up your flux capacitor by reading this fine piece of journalism, which details how nine pro-privatization and anti-tax billionaires took over school policy and the New York senate. One of the Nine is Massachusetts’ own Seth Klarman, benefactor of Strategic Grant Partners and the predecessor ballot committee to Great Schools Massachusetts, as of October 7, 2016 mysteriously missing from transparent contributor records.

The Dark Money Olympics. April 7, 2015. I went after the No Boston Olympics folks for not revealing their donors. I have a lot of admiration for what they accomplished though.

Those Rational Non-Voters. September 25, 2014. Dark money campaigns make it rational for voters to just stay home.

What Worries a Political Scientist. April 18, 2014. Dark money, for one thing.

Battle for Democracy: New Populism vs. Dark Money. January 21, 2014. My political science colleagues argue that the fate of our democracy hinges on the contest between liberal populists and right wing dark money.

Teach for America Spinoff helps Alumni Gain Influence Stephen Sawchuk, Education Week January 15, 2014 Leadership for Educational Equity, a 501c3, trains Teach for America alumni how to campaign, and connects them with the money people. LEE’s startup in Massachusetts was funded by Strategic Grant Partners.

Yes It’s Corrupt: Marty Money and Connolly Cash. January 2, 2014. Dark money on both sides of the mayoral contest.

Our Campaign Finance Farce-ocracy. December 19, 2013. Dark money outside spending in the mayor’s race hit #3.8 million, according to the Boston Globe.

AFT Proud. December 13, 2013. The American Federation of Teachers fesses up that it was behind the dark money One Boston, which ran $480,000 worth of TV ads supporting Marty Walsh for mayor.

People’s Pledge: Does It Matter That We Know the Donors? May 9, 2013. Political science research shows that voters will find TV ads less effective if they know the true interests funding them. That’s a big reason for dark money.

Teach for America’s Deep Bench James Ceronsky The American Prospect October 24, 2012 Teach for America spinoff Leadership for Educational Equity trains TFA alumni to run for political office and win. LEE got its start in Massachusetts in 2014 with a $700,000 grant from Strategic Grant Partners.

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

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."

Strategic Grant Partners, dark money

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