Hijacking Campaign 2010

American Federation for Children

Posted: October 12, 2010
Updated: January 16, 2014

Estimated Spending: $700,000

American Federation for Children is a Washington D.C.-based group that promotes school choice programs, which allows children to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense, over traditional public education in Wisconsin and around the country.  This organization is a spin-off of the Michigan-based All Children Matter, which spent an estimated $2.5 million on phony issue ads in several legislative races since 2004 and in the 2006 governor's race.

Betsy DeVos, who is the chair of American Federation for Children, and her husband Dick DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and son of the co-founder of Amway Corporation, organized and ran All Children Matter.  Scott Jensen, who is the federation's senior policy advisor, was a former state Republican Assembly leader before he resigned from office as a result of charges in the caucus scandal.

The group sponsored mailings in October 2010 against several incumbent legislative Democrats.  One mailing – here – told readers that Democrats "voted to increase auto insurance bills by as much as $300 a year."  The proposal, which increased the minimum amount of auto insurance people must carry and required all state residents to have auto insurance, was part of the 2009-11 state budget.  The group sponsored these mailings against Assembly Democratic Representatives Phil Garthwaite of Dickeyville, Kristen Dexter of Eau Claire, Jim Soletski of Green Bay, Ann Hraychuck of Balsam Lake and Ted Zigmunt of  Francis Creek. 

The federation also sponsored mailings – here and here – criticizing Dexter and Soletski for approving $500,000 for the Oshkosh Opera House, $46,000 for new garbage cans for a community in Zigmunt's district and $5 million in upgrades for the Bradley Center where the Milwaukee Bucks play.  Those also were among numerous spending items in the 2009-11 state budget.

The group sponsored negative mailings – here and here – against incumbent Democratic State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls. One of the mailings shows Kreitlow's picture on an old-fashioned "Wanted Poster" and asking:  "Have you seen this job-killing politician?"  Two mailings – here and here – went out in the same area against Democratic candidate C.W. King who is running for the open 67th Assembly District seat.  The group criticizes King, a Chippewa Falls City Council member, for voting to increase the city's garbage tax.

In the 1st Senate District where former Republican Representative Frank Lasee and Democratic candidate Monk Elmer were competing for an open seat, the group sent a mailer smearing Elmer, Kimberly school board president, for higher taxes and spending by the school district. The cover reads:  "Knock, Knock.  Monk Elmer and higher taxes are calling." According to media reports, the group's claims were based on financial problems at a school district in Kimberly, Idaho.

The group's registered corporation – the American Federation for Children Action Fund – spent nearly $119,000 in four legislative races including an unsuccessful effort to help incumbent Democratic State Senator Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee, who was a key backer of Milwaukee's school choice program, keep his seat. Plale lost to a challenger in the Democratic primary.