Sunday, September 30, 2007

Watch the money go 'round and 'round

From my post earlier today (Show me the money - see below), there were several folks named in the LA Times story who didn't seem to have a close connection to California or the now-defunct ballot initiative that would have divided the electoral college votes of that electoral college vote-rich state. (There is a link to the full story in my post below.)

You may recall that with the California effort on the outs, spokespeople indicated the money was going to be re-directed to the Utah voucher campaign. In fact it was this in the original story that first caught my eye:

"Wilcox said the group was planning to donate to other conservative causes around the country, including one in Utah to create school vouchers."

One oddity from that news story that seemed really out of place was the Missouri attorney, Charles Hurth III who appears to be the conduit for the "large donor" who gave to the defunct ballot effort. Hurth lives and works in a small town in Missouri so it puzzles me why he would get involved in such an initiative so far away.

Missouri is, after all, a ballot initiative state much like Utah, so why would Hurth be so interested in an electoral college initiative only in California? Why not Missouri?

And, what else has Hurth been involved in?

Well, heavens be. I did a little research and found Hurth's name attached to the so-called "First Class Education" effort bankrolled by Utah's Patrick Byrne, the mercurial CEO of and funder of the Utah legislators' pro-private school voucher political issues committee (PIC) and major donor to PCE.

You can see some of the ties here and here as reported by San Francisco and national reporters.

Not only was the "First Class Education" effort by Byrne an utter failure, he wasted more than $1 million trying to foist it on states only to find that it cratered in every place where it was brought up -- including Utah and Missouri. You can read all about Byrne's mis-steps and mis-guided education reform package here.

SO, if the California money is to be re-directed to Utah, will that money be Hurth's? Or Byrne's, re-routed through Missouri and California? Or some other shadowy Libertarian who shuns the spotlight?

Byrne admits to being a Libertarian. Or at least he did here when he was in Florida (nice place to be in winter) flacking for his so-called education "reform". And that brings me back to speculating that Libertarians are funding PCE. They certainly were vocal last week in their support for vouchers, even if their logic was a little convoluted.

But until the donor or donors come forward big questions remain: Who is funding PCE? And, why don't they want to tell us?

If it is just Byrne, why doesn't he tell us? If it is Byrne, Hurth, Howie Rich from New York City, and other like-minded Libertarians, why aren't they proud of what they are doing?

Doesn't anyone supporting vouchers have enough conviction in the issue to say he/she/they are willing to put their funds where their convictions are??

Show me the money

"Wilcox said the group was planning to donate to other conservative causes around the country, including one in Utah to create school vouchers."

That sentence from an article in the Los Angeles Times the other day caught my eye. The article itself was about a California ballot initiative effort that was folding due to lack of interest and financial support. Apparently the issue - to divide that state's electoral college votes by Congressional district - attracted only one large donor.

Of course, in keeping with the same loyalty to secrecy that Utah's Parents for Choice in Education has, the California ballot organizers would not say who the one large donor was. You can read the entire article here.

Secrecy aside, this reference to the movement of pro-voucher money into Utah isn't surprising. We should expect to see money move into the state. But, as I've said before, we know where the money is coming from for the Against Referendum 1 side. It is coming from Utah public school teachers and teachers across the nation.

What is so puzzling is why PCE and the pro-voucher groups are so reluctant to say who is donating to them.

Who contributed the $270,000 that the PCE Foundation and PCE, Inc. "donated" to the PCE political action committee, as reported in this Deseret News article?

It's obvious that PCE will be increasing its spending. They won't have far to go to raise money (I'll explain below). Even PCE spokesperson Leah Barker admitted they would be bringing in out-of-state organizers, and hiring an out-of-state consulting firm.

There is a "call" on this weblog for young people telling them they can earn $6,000 in Utah to work to try and pass the private school voucher law. Additionally, they get money for meals - and their transportation is paid! These out of state PCE "helpers" will expect to get their money, as will the blogger who wrote that he would land in Utah on September 30 (today). Bob Aagard has some information on the out-of-state blogger here.

So if we know that PCE is spending money on organizers, as well as on TV advertising, and we know some shadowy donor will no longer be funding a ballot issue in California but will be sending money to Utah, who is that donor? Or, is it a group of donors?

Hard to say. That is, until PCE comes clean and tells us who is funding their effort.

Of course, there is always an opportunity to speculate on where or who the money is coming from.

Here I found a list of the Top Ten donors to school voucher programs. They include the funders I wrote about before - Tim Draper from California and Dick DeVos from Michgan. Also included on this list is the Walton Family Foundation. (Did you know your Wal-Mart purchases helped fund the pro-voucher movement? I didn't!) Apparently there also are a few other deep-pocketed pro-voucher gurus from states as far from Utah as New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Interestingly, these same names of individuals and foundations appear on the list of donors to the so-called "Alliance for School Choice." It's the "Alliance for School Choice" that founded the "All Children Matter" pro-voucher PAC that bases its operations in Virginia (where there are no limits on campaign donations) and Michigan.

And, it's that very same "All Children Matter" PAC that spent so much money on state legislative races in Utah and elsewhere as reported by Brock Vergakis of the Associated Press here.

Or is PCE being funded by rich Libertarians? The 2006 property rights and tax cap issues on the ballot from Maine to Idaho to California and Arizona were funded by one wealthy donor, Howie Rich from New York City. You can learn all about Howie and his causes here where there is a blow-by-blow analysis of Howie's failed efforts last year.

But, another one of Howie Rich from New York City's causes is private school vouchers, as he heads another pro-voucher front group "Parents in Charge" Foundation, or Inc. or LEAD - whichever name he's calling it today.

Howie Rich from New York City has single handedly been funding a private school voucher scheme in South Carolina, as reported by this Daily Kos weblog. (Well, actually, according to that reporter, Howie was trying to buy the whole STATE of South Carolina. Frightening, but true.)

So, is Howie Rich from New York City funding the Utah private voucher school effort? After all, Howie Rich spent from $9 to $11 MILLION on the failed tax cap measures alone.

Since Howie is a rich and devoted Libertarian, it could be him. The Utah Libertarian Party issued a release last week encouraging support for an unaccountable private school voucher program. In it they wrote:

"Allowing parents to use some of the wealth extorted from taxpayers to place their children in voluntarily-attended learning environments will help decentralize the dangerous, gun-run school system..."

"Wealth extorted from taxpayers"? "The dangerous gun-run school system"? I think they are alluding to Utah's system of public schools, but I can't be sure.

Of course, the Libertarian Party is given to extremes. Party members are so committed to supporting the individual over government that they support legalizing drugs and prostitution, and even call for the repeal of laws and amendments that ban gay marriage. Lest you think I jest, you can find the Libertarian Party platform here.

Now, if the good folks at PCE want to run from the tenants of the Libertarian Party, including its devotion to legal drugs, legal prostitution, and gay marriage, then that is fine. Understandable, even.

Just tell us who your donors really are. Inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Follow the money...if you can find it

In this morning's Deseret News, Bob Bernick had an interesting story about the voucher fight. He did a very fair job of reporting on both sides of the issue.

What caught my eye was his reference to where the funds are coming from to fuel this showdown:

"But at least we know that the NEA is doing this, and we have a pretty good idea where its PAC money is coming from — public school teachers across the nation who pay PAC dues into the national education group through their local teacher union chapters.

We don't know where all of the money that Parents for Choice in Education is coming from. As reported in last Sunday's Deseret Morning News, the PCE's own PIC and PAC get some funds from the same group's corporation and nonprofit foundation..."

Precisely. Where is their money coming from? Who is giving to them and funding this effort? If you see my post yesterday this clearly is becoming a stare down between real, public school teachers and some faceless million-billionaires.

Also in yesterday's post, I wrote about Tim Draper from California who put $24 million of his own money into the 2000 voucher effort there, and Dick DeVos who put at least $5 million of his own dough into the pro-private school voucher initiative in his home state of Michigan. Are they funding the Utah effort?

Doing some research has yielded a lot of information about where PCE got its money to fund the state legislative races that eventually led to the flawed voucher bill passing the Utah House by 1 vote. Some of that information can be found on this weblog by Accountability First (I like the name) and it's interesting reading. I recommend it.

I also uncovered some other writings that lead me to believe the pro-voucher side's money might be from Michigan. Seems the "All Children Matter" PAC, headed by DeVos' wife, put a whole lot of money a whole lot of places trying to influence state legislative races, including Utah. If you want more on that, check out this weblog on the national Daily Kos site.

Yesterday, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF), an extreme right-wing "think tank" bombarded the Utah media with a "guest editorial" attacking teachers for financially contributing to Utah's anti-voucher cause. You can read the rant here.

You know, it was EFF that tried to tie up Washington state teachers in the courts for many years, filing complaint after complaint because the teachers wanted to spend some money on important issues there.

At the same time EFF was railing against the Washington Education Association and its public school teachers, the Foundation itself would NOT say where its funds were from.

What? You mean, it's all right to assault teachers for wanting to have a voice, but you won't confess to which puppeteers are pulling your strings? The height of hypocrisy.

One judge noticed that hypocrisy and rebuked EFF. Washington State Supreme Court Justice Philip A. Talmadge made this withering comment in his May 2000 opinion regarding a case initiated by Evergreen against WEA when he said:

"... We know nothing about the EFF. It chooses to utilize the courts for
what may be a political agenda, and yet we know nothing regarding the
individuals or organizations who make up the EFF or provide financial
support to it. Perhaps a healthy dose of 'public disclosure' so
vigorously sought by these organizations would be usefully applied to
their own activities as well, so the public will know who supports and
funds them when they purport to be acting in the public interest."

Taking a defensive position about its funding when asked AGAIN who was donating to the group, EFF spokesman Jami Lund told the Olympian (a fine newspaper): "But even if we got our money straight from the Communist Party or the Ku Klux Klan, it doesn't mean that the things we are saying aren't true."

So, EFF joins PCE to blast teachers in Utah and around the country for pooling their small contributions to help fight the flawed voucher law that would siphon public taxpayer funds and send those monies to an unaccountable, private school system? Because teachers around the United States believe in their heart of hearts that vouchers are bad?

And yet EFF won't come clean - and PCE won't come clean - about who is funding the pro-voucher effort in Utah? Come on. It's time for them to put up or shut up.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sutherland's new math

Of course we all know the Sutherland Institute is a purveyor of "information" for Utah citizens and taxpayers.

It describes itself in news releases as:

"The Sutherland Institute is a conservative public policy think tank committed to shaping Utah law and policy based on a core set of governing principles. The Institute strives to make Utah an example of good government for the rest of the nation and a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Sutherland’s role in Utah’s current voucher debate is educational. "


PUH-LEEZE, spare me. Sutherland's so-called contribution to the voucher debate is anything but educational. The IRS ought to be looking at the groups 501(c)3 status!

All of the "Institute's" so-called "research" is pro-voucher. Completely pro-voucher. I'd lay odds they are spending beyond their limit on advocacy under IRS regulations.

Today the good folks (and I do not disparage their motives, as we are all good people of good motives) at Sutherland claimed that the average tuition at Utah's private schools is a "mere" $4,530 annually.

Of course, this is AFTER they "threw out" the schools that charged a lot. Like the one they found that charged $52,500 a year.

You can check out their latest release here.

I am pretty sure this is an attempt to counter the Utahns for Public Schools information, and Utah State's survey that demonstrated the average annual tuition is around $8,000. At least they have an independent source for their information and they document it all, too. You can check their website.

But this "new math" from Sutherland has my head spinning.

Sutherland's so-called claims about numbers tell me one thing for sure: this private school voucher law is too flawed. Not only that, but if legislators really have a lot of extra money hanging around, it should go to Glen!

Teachers with small dollars vs the millionaires

Yes, let's talk about who funds either side of the current education voucher ballot issue in Utah.

The pro-voucher group(s) don't want to talk about who is funding it(them). That's why Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) received the lion's share of its contributions from two artificially-created entities, the PCE "Foundation" and PCE, INC. (a corporation). Two-thirds of PCE's funding - as last reported - came from these two entities.

See, under Utah's laws, neither a foundation nor a corporation has to report its donors. So, ANONYMOUS people (or an ANONYMOUS person) is funding Utah's pro-voucher movement. You can read more about it here.

But while they hide behind a veil of secrecy as to their donors,they attack public school teachers and the teachers' organization for financially supporting the anti-voucher side.

Why attack public school teachers? My Mom? My Mom's friends? Mrs. Rainman, my favorite 6th grade teacher? Why are they being assaulted?

Maybe because the pro-voucher groups don't want you to know who's funding them. It's a big secret. But I know who is funding the anti-voucher side: Mom and her friends.

So, let's look at who has funded the pro-voucher side before.

I looked back at the 2000 elections in California and Michigan. Both of those states had private school vouchers on the ballot. Guess what? It was millionaires who funded the pro-private school voucher side.

In case you want to check it out, check out this news article. In California, Tim Draper put $24 MILLION of his own money into the pro-voucher campaign, and in Michigan it was Dick DeVos, the Amway heir, who put in at least $5 million.

In fact, in Michigan, the PRO-voucher side spent TWICE what the public school supporters spent, as reported here.

So, come on, a few dollars each from teachers in Utah and throughout the country and you want to complain that TEACHERS are spending too much? Among the teaching ranks there aren't a lot of millionaires who can single-handedly fund a campaign.

But I sure am interested to know what millionaire is hiding behind the skirts of the PCE "Foundation" and PCE, Inc.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Why so ANGRY?

Why is the group that supports Utah education vouchers so ANGRY? Not just angry, but ANGRY. And cranky, too.

The voucher supporters' group, Parents for Choice in Education (PCE for short) conducts an unethical "push-poll" to spread vicious rumors, but that tactic is exposed by Paul Rolly over at the Tribune.

Then, they attack our public school teachers through paid ads assaulting their national association (the National Education Association). Heck, my Mom was a member of that group and she could hardly have been labeled the way PCE claims! (May she rest in peace.)

Next they send an angry letter from some lawyers declaring any discussion of the voucher issue to be forbidden on school grounds to try and intimidate educators from exercising their Constitutional right of free speech.

And, so they aren't alone, PCE's helpers - the legislative leaders who squeezed vouchers through the Legislature - resort to calling lobbyists in to demand they put up money and votes to pass the voucher referendum (Referendum 1). Then, these same legislators threaten to withhold support from a health care proposal unless these groups do more to support vouchers.

Whew. These folks are mad.


Because they don't have real facts to support a universal education voucher system in Utah. The facts don't support vouchers.

Vouchers do hurt the public schools. They take money away from our public schools to help fund a private education system. A private education system that is not accountable for results or for how it spends tax dollars.

My Dad used to tell me that "you can only spend a dollar once." He was right. If I have $1 and I spend it on candy then that $1 is not available to be spent on clothes or saved with other $$ to be spent on something bigger, like an IPOD.

Same with vouchers. If tax dollars are spent on private school vouchers, then those dollars are not available to be spent on PUBLIC schools or anything else or, heaven forbid, saved for a rainy day.

So, to divert attention from the facts, the groups backing vouchers just have to be ANGRY. I feel sorry for them.