September 19, 2017

Flickr: Frits Ahlefeldt

Last week’s Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance Disposition Agreement exposing the practices of dark-money-front Families for Excellent Schools was so consequential that it will take months to fully comprehend. Its effects are rippling through the nation. Here are my thoughts and observations about what may be some of the significant aftershocks.

Families for Excellent Schools gets the death penalty.

There has been plenty of attention to the record breaking $426,000 fine imposed on Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, the political arm of FES. More important and of lasting consequence is this, from the Disposition Agreement:  “FESA agrees that it will begin the dissolution process of its designation as a 501(c)(4) organization upon execution of this agreement.”

It’s the death penalty. Is there a historian of OCPF that can tell me if anyone has ever gotten the death penalty before? What this means is that FESA’s secret money operation was so outrageous, so egregious, so fraudulent, so corrupt, so irredeemably lawless, that FESA cannot be rehabilitated. Thus the death penalty.

Let’s see how this plays out in FES operations in Connecticut and New York, where there are already calls for the state attorney general to investigate the charitable tax status of Families for Excellent Schools Inc.  

Dirty Harry calling on line 2.

Check out that list of FESA donors – is there any question they were promised, and expected, anonymity? It’s the whole reason to give to FESA. If there is another reason, I'd love to hear about it. Imagine the phone calls to those givers when OCPF’s subpoenas hit. Next imagine the phone calls to those donors when FESA was forced by OCPF to disclose the contributors’ names.

Now imagine the phone calls from donors to other Massachusetts dark money fronts like Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance and Democrats for Education Reform Massachusetts. Can their donors be sure their names will remain hidden? Because OCPF has gone Dirty Harry on them: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”

Massachusetts Parents United sleeping with one eye open.

Another group with reason to be nervous is Massachusetts Parents United whose state director, Keri Rodrigues, was the state director for FES last year. Since OCPF’s revelations we can tie dark money from Alice Walton ($250,000) and Chuck Longfield ($650,000) to FES. And who is funding Mass Parents? You guessed it, Walton and Longfield. If you believe that MPU is grassroots please contact me immediately; I have some distressing news about that Nigerian banker you’ve been emailing.

The SGP Network and the SGP Big Three.

Go back over Your Dark Money Reader and you’ll see that Strategic Grant Partners of Boston and their plutocratic partners have been at the center of privatization efforts since 2010 at least. The FESA list of contributors had lots of SGP related donors – we’ll call that the “SGP Network.” Just three SGP families – Bekenstein, Jacobson, and Klarman – make the FESA Hall of Fame with $7.5 million in dark money donations. We’ll call them the “SGP Big 3.”

More death penalty candidates?

Back in April in Dark Money Sharks Devour Mass Education Policy I urged OCPF to take a look at Stand for Children and its activities in pushing a 2012 ballot proposal, which was pulled when unions and Stand reached a compromise. If OCPF investigates it is likely to come to the same conclusion about Stand for Children as it did for FESA. And my research indicates that it probably was the SGP Big 3 bankrolling Stand, just as they did for FES. Does that mean Stand for Children gets the death penalty? And what about the SGP Big 3? After all, FES and Stand are just names they acquired via short term rental. OCPF didn’t refer FESA to the Massachusetts Attorney General, but what if looking into Stand for Children shows the same conduct by the same people? Or does Attorney General Maura Healey just take the case?

The Disposition Agreement highlights the question I’ve been raising over and over again: Are we going to tolerate, here in Massachusetts, surrendering our democracy to a secret cabal?

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.]

OCPF, Office of Campaign and Political Finance, Massachusetts Parents United, Families for Excellent Schools, Maura Healey

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