Wealthy Voucher Donors Getting Choice Policy Payback
School privatization supporters outspend opponents $3 to $1
May 24, 2011
Madison – Supporters of Milwaukee’s school choice program spent more than $3 million in 2009 and 2010 to help elect Governor Scott Walker and much of the GOP-controlled legislature while opponents spent a million dollars to elect mostly minority Democrats, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.
Supporters of state-subsidized school privatization led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, American Federation for Children and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce spent $3.36 million on mostly negative electioneering activities and direct campaign contributions to Walker, three fundraising committees run by legislative leaders and 66 legislators – most of them Republicans.
School choice opponents led by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, and two dozen local teachers unions spent $1 million on electioneering activities and direct contributions to three legislative fundraising committees and 52 legislators – most of them Democrats.
And since the elections last November, Walker and the legislature’s majority Republicans have moved quickly to reward that support with proposals to substantially expand Milwaukee’s 20-year-old school choice program which spent $130 million in taxpayer dollars this year to pay for about 20,200 pupils from low-income families to attend private and religious schools.
Walker, who received $125,220 in campaign contributions from school choice supporters in 2009 and 2010 during his campaign for governor, used his proposed 2011-2013 state budget to increase the number of pupils and schools that can participate in the program. Walker also proposed increasing state spending on school choice by $22.5 million while cutting state aid to K-12 public schools by about $840 million in his budget.
In addition to the direct campaign contributions, Walker was the beneficiary of $1.45 million in outside election spending by two of the school choice program’s most powerful supporters. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group, spent about $1 million to help Walker and the Milwaukee Association of Commerce made $446,450 in contributions to the Republican Governors Association, which spent $5 million in the 2010 elections on a barrage of ads and mailings to smear Walker’s opponent.
Supporters of state-paid private schooling contributed $181,627 in 2009 and 2010 to current legislators and three legislative fundraising committees. Top recipients (Table 1) were newly elected Republican Senators Van Wanggaard of Racine at $14,399, Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa at $13,250 and Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls at $12,050.
Most of the largest individual contributors (Table 2) to the legislators and Walker were from outside Wisconsin and gave through the Fund for Parent Choice conduit. Conduits are legal check-bundling outfits created by school choice supporters and other special interest groups to bypass political action committee contribution limits. Conduits can take an unlimited number and amount of individual contributions and combine them to give the recipient one large check.
The parent choice conduit funneled $162,825 in contributions from 26 donors to Walker, current legislators and fundraising committees – $144,075, or 88 percent of those contributions came from Texas, California, Arkansas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio. Most of the contributions to support Milwaukee’s school choice program came from members of the Walton family, which owns Walmart, and their company political action committee which collectively contributed $97,600 in 2009 and 2010 to Walker and current legislators.
And only months after winning control of the legislature, Republicans refused to drop school choice eligibility provisions from Walker’s proposed state budget even after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau identified them among four dozen policy items that should be considered as separate legislation. Republican legislators also have introduced bills that make some of the program changes sought by Walker in his budget. Those bills were approved recently by the Assembly on near party-line votes.
In addition to direct campaign contributions to the legislators, WMC spent about $900,000 and the American Federation for Children in Washington secretly raised and spent an estimated $730,000 during the 2010 elections mostly on negative broadcast ads and mailings to support Republican legislative candidates and an independent who won their races. The federation is a spin-off of All Children Matter, a Michigan-based shadowy electioneering group that spent $2.5 million to smear legislative and statewide candidates for office between 2004 and 2008.
Walker went to Washington to address the federation’s May 9 event on school choice where he surprised many observers with talk of expanding taxpayer support of private and religious schools to other Wisconsin cities in the near future.
Betsy DeVos, who is chair of American Federation for Children, and her husband Dick, a Michigan billionaire and son of the co-founder of Amway Corporation, also founded and ran All Children Matter. Among the federation’s other leaders is Scott Jensen, a former state Republican Assembly leader who was convicted on felony misconduct in office charges. The conviction was later overturned on a technicality and Jensen was ordered retried, but he managed to strike a deal to plead guilty to a misdemeanor ethics code violation and pay a $5,000 fine.
Those opposed to school choice and its expansion spent $785,513 on mostly negative outside electioneering activities and $217,734 on direct campaign contributions to support current legislators (Table 3). WEAC doled out $841,432 on outside electioneering activities, contributions to other electioneering groups and direct contributions to current legislators. Their spending included $354,763 on outside activities to support Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma, $230,750 in contributions to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, $150,000 to Advancing Wisconsin and $83,889 in PAC contributions and $22,030 in individual contributions through its Childrens Great School Fund conduit to three legislative fundraising committees and current legislators.
The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund and Advancing Wisconsin have spent millions of dollars in recent elections on advertising, mailings, canvassing and other outside electioneering activities to support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature.
In addition to WEAC, two dozen local teachers unions contributed $99,174 to current legislators.
Another school choice opponent, the Wisconsin AFL- CIO, spent $58,515, including a $50,000 contribution to Citizens for a Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund, an outside electioneering group which backed the election of Democratic Senator Chris Larson of Milwaukee, and $8,515 in PAC contributions to two legislative fundraising committees and four Democrats who won their elections. Finally, the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators PAC contributed $4,126 in 2009 and 2010 to current legislators.
|Republican Assembly Campaign Committee||R||$12,000|
|Committee to Elect a Republican Senate||R||$7,500|
|Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee||D||$7,050|
|Karl Van Roy||R||$1,850|
|Walmart Stores PAC||Bentonville, AR||Walmart||$39,000|
|San & Joanne Orr||Wausau, WI||Bradley Foundation Board of Directors||$25,100|
|Capitol Gains Club (conduit)||Madison, WI||Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce||$22,948|
|Lynn & Jim Walton||Bentonville, AR||Walmart||$17,450|
|Dennis & Sandy Kuester||Milwaukee, WI||Bradley Foundation Board of Directors||$17,000|
|Carrie & Gregory Penner||Menlo Park, CA||Walmart||$16,500|
|Alice Walton||Millsap, TX||Walmart||$15,600|
|Susan & William Oberndorf||San Francisco, CA||SPO Partners||$15,250|
|George & Susan Mitchell||Whitefish Bay, WI||School Choice Wisconsin||$14,500|
|Dick & Betsy DeVos||Grand Rapids, MI||Alticor/Windquest||$14,050|
|Richard & Sherry Sharp||Richmond, VA||School Choice||$12,650|
|David & Julia Uihlein||Milwaukee, WI||Bradley Foundation Board of Directors||$10,000|
|Milwaukee Police Association PAC||Milwaukee, WI||Milwaukee Police Association||$9,650|
|Virginia James||Lambertville, NJ||Retired||$9,600|
|Michael Grebe||Milwaukee, WI||Bradley Foundation Board of Directors||$9,500|
|Christy Walton||Jackson Hole, WY||Walmart||$9,050|
|Arthur Dantchik||Gladwyne, PA||SIG Financial Holdings||$9,000|
|Joel Greenberg||Gladwyne, PA||SIG Financial Holdings||$9,000|
|Jeff Yass||Haverford, PA||SIG Financial Holdings||$9,000|
|Concerned Business & Industry PAC||Madison, WI||Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce||$5,499|
& Deborah McGriff
New Schools Venture Fund
|George Hume||San Francisco, CA||Basic American Foods||$3,500|
|MMAC Conduit||Milwaukee, WI||Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce||$3,025|
|John Fisher||San Francisco, CA||Pisces Inc.||$1,675|
|Ann Brennan||Akron, OH||White Hat Management||$1,400|
Metro Milwaukee Association
of Commerce PAC
|Milwaukee, WI||Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce||$1,000|
|Wisconsin Family Action PAC||Madison, WI||Wisconsin Family Action||$800|
Fire Fighters 215 PAC
|Milwaukee, WI||Milwaukee Professional Fire Fighters||$500|
|Jim Blew||Valencia, CA||American Education Reform Council||$350|
|John Robertstad||Oconomowoc, WI||Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital||$125|
|Maureen Gallagher||Waukesha, WI||Waukesha Catholic School System||$100|
|State Senate Democratic Committee||D||$36,000|
|Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee||D||$26,265|
|Penny Bernard Schaber||D||$3,300|
|Committee to Elect a Republican Senate||R||$2,500|
|Amy Sue Vruwink||D||$2,000|
|Louis Molepske Jr.||D||$1,750|
|Kelda Helen Roys||D||$1,700|