Despite the well-intended nature of DC’s new public financing of campaigns, it appears that money is flowing copiously from education reform and school privatization interests to local candidates seemingly irrespective of whether they use public financing or the traditional campaign finance system.
This blog post is the first in a series exploring these financial stakes in the 2020 election cycle.
The fact that each donation in the publicly financed system is limited to $100 or less may make a difference in the appearance of “pay to play.” But as at least one candidate even with public financing appears to have a preponderance of charter, ed reform, and school privatizing interests donating (hello, Christina Henderson!), it suggests that “pay to play” may be in the eye of the beholder.
More importantly, from what I can see, the significance of this is not merely a matter of numbers of donations–or even the amounts therein.
Rather, it’s the money and power behind those numbers, representing wealthy and powerful donor ed reform, charter, and privatizing organizations.
That is, while a DCPS parent completely disconnected from any private organization that stands to monetarily benefit from our public schools (i.e. the majority of us) may donate $100 to a candidate, Citybridge’s Katherine Bradley donating $100 by herself is inevitably different. Bradley’s organization alone operates with tremendous power, influence, and huge financial resources that have literally changed how public education works in DC. So it is that any signal of Bradley’s support, even with as little (for her!) as a $100 donation, suggests future access to resources and influence beyond what that single DCPS parent above (i.e. the majority of us) is likely to garner with a donation of the same amount.
To be sure, none of this is new in DC politics. See here and here and here and here and here for a few other examples of the outsize monetary influence of charter, ed reform, and school privatizing interests in previous DC electoral cycles.
To outline this continuing web of school privatizing interests in the 2020 election, I have created a series of three blog posts:
–This one, outlining donations by DC elected and appointed officials with connections to public education as well as some commonly seen ed reform donors, including Democrats for Education Reform (DFER);
–A second post, outlining specific support to each candidate receiving the most campaign attention from ed reform donors, privatizers, and charter interests; and
–A third post, expanding and cross-listing such donors and their connections to ed reform, privatizing, and charter interests and organizations.
For this purpose, all campaign donations examined were as late as October 10, 2020. I also did not examine donations to primary candidates who lost.
Interestingly, many of the donors outlined herein donated to Ward 4 council member Brandon Todd, who lost his primary battle to Janeese Lewis George. Also interestingly, many donors chose to list themselves as “retired” or “unemployed,” including some listed herein (hello, Scott Pearson!), which effectively hides whatever work they continue to do.
Needless to say, a single person searching massive databases is a fraught activity, and all mistakes, omissions, and other errors here are mine and mine alone. (But please let me know if you see any so I can correct them ;-))
Finally, I must thank Keith Ivey, who did the great public service of making all publicly financed campaign data both sensible and searchable.
This is no small feat: DC’s (new) publicly financed campaign database is entirely separate from traditional campaign finance data—and the DC office of campaign finance does not make all donations available in the same format. Worse for this purpose, the publicly financed campaign data are not searchable in their publicly provided format! So here is Ivey’s searchable compilation of donations in publicly financed campaigns, as of October 10, 2020. (Be sure to also visit Ivey’s great website to examine how each candidate’s fundraising reflects local donors.)
Before We Begin, A Quick Look At Apparent DCPS Staff Support
Examining candidates most heavily donated to by donors listed herein, I derived an approximate count of DCPS staff donations as follows (candidates with public financing are marked with an asterisk):
28 to Janeese Lewis George* (W4 council)
26 to Eboni-Rose Thompson* (W7 state board)
25 to Markus Batchelor* (at large council)
19 to Ed Lazere* (at large council)
12 to Monica Palacio* (at large council)
11 to Jacque Patterson (at large state board)
10 to Carlene Reid* (W8 state board)
8 to Mysiki Valentine* (at large state board)
8 to Trayon White* (W8 council)
8 to Marcus Goodwin (at large council)
7 to Robert White (at large council)
7 to Dontrell Smith* (W7 state board)
4 to Chander Jayaraman* (at large council)
3 to Christina Henderson* (at large council)
2 to Karen Williams* (W7 state board)
2 to Frazier O’Leary (W4 state board)
1 to Franklin Garcia* (at large council)
1 to LaJoy Johnson-Law (W8 state board)
1 to Allister Chang* (W2 state board)
0 to Vincent Gray (W7 council)
While there were donations from DCPS staff to nearly every candidate, these numbers above are obviously not a complete picture of all DCPS staff donations. Nor are they even an exact one for this, more limited, purpose, because not all DCPS staff are identified as such or in a way that made them easily identifiable as DCPS staff (or as working at DCPS schools–i.e. school staff who are actually employed by other agencies). It is also a bit confusing inasmuch as some of the candidates have no opponents on the ballot (i.e., Gray and O’Leary), so their lack of DCPS staff support may not (necessarily) be indicative of anything.
However, the (admittedly small) trend I can see here of donations by DCPS staff appears to be an inverse relationship to the ed reform, privatizing, and charter support detailed below and in part 2 of this series.
For comparison, here is a list of endorsements by the Washington Teachers Union (WTU). The WTU itself did not appear to make any donations except the following:
Elizabeth Davis, WTU head: $100 to Ed Lazere; $200 to Markus Batchelor
Jared Catapano, WTU field specialist: $45 to Janeese George; $10 to Mysiki Valentine
The Great Unknown Of DFER DC
For this 2020 election season, it appears that the great monied lobbying interest of local ed reform, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) DC, has managed to hide its donors.
Recall that in the last election cycle in 2018, DFER DC had a huge war chest courtesy of well-heeled ed reform interests both in DC and elsewhere.
Now, just in calendar year 2020 alone, DFER DC’s independent expenditure committee (IEC) took in even more: $550,000.
But unlike 2018, none of that came from individual donors.
Rather, that 2020 amount came only from DFER DC’s associated lobbying entity, Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERN Advocacy)—whose donors are not publicly disclosed.
In 2017, per tax records, DFER DC was given $205,000 by ERN Advocacy, which represented about 10% of ERN Advocacy’s grants that year ($2.8 million), out of a total revenue stream of $10.7 million.
So it is that because NO individual donors have given to DFER DC’s IEC in 2020, DFER DC is operating in 2020 with money from unseen and unknown sources.
Moreover, with no way to track what DFER DC does on behalf of local candidates, this amounts to a large campaign fund for DC candidates who are ed reform friendly, operated entirely out of public sight.
That said, we do know in large terms what DFER DC has spent money on in 2020.
Since April, for instance, DFER DC’s IEC reported that it has given $348,000 to the Balduzzi Group in DC; $80,000 to PR firm SKDKnickerbocker; and $45,000 to Hart Research Associates. While there is no way to know exactly what that money went toward, one has to assume that some of it went to creating DFER flyers attacking Ward 4 candidate Janeese George for her stance on defunding police–as well as a DFER DC stamp of approval to at large state board of education candidate Jacque Patterson.
In addition, Balduzzi has done a lot of work for charters and ed reform interests. Indeed, one of its employees has given to a national political action committee (PAC) for charters called Charter Schools Action.
(That PAC BTW enjoys contributions from a number of DC ed reform and charter-friendly luminaries, including former DC charter board executive director Scott Pearson ($1000 10/13/19; $1000 10/21/19; $5000 3/5/20); Amy Wilkins, of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (7/1/19 $1000; 10/7/19, $500); charter board member Lea Crusey (6/25/19, $1000); and Maura Marino (10/21/19, $500), who has had a long history in DC ed reform circles, not only as CEO of Education Forward, but also as a board member of DC Prep, Ingenuity Prep, DC Charter School Alliance, and a manager at an HR firm for charter schools, TriNet.)
2020 Donations by Public Charter School Board Members and Staff
(NB: I saw no donations from charter board members Rick Cruz; Saba Bireda; Ricarda Ganjam; Steve Bumbaugh; or Jim Sandman.)
Lea Crusey (board member): $100 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to Christina Henderson; also gave money to charter PAC Charter Schools Action (6/25/19, $1000)
Naomi Shelton (board member): $250 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to Christina Henderson; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson
Scott Pearson (former exec. dir.): $500 to Jacque Patterson; $1000 to Vincent Gray (although it appears $500 was refunded); $100 to Ed Lazere; $100 to Christina Henderson; $1000 to Marcus Goodwin. Also gave money to charter PAC Charter Schools Action ($7000)
Tomeika Bowden (communications, charter board): $500 to Vincent Gray; $100 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to Christina Henderson
Nicole Newman (community engagement, charter board): $50 to Trayon White; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson; $25 to Janeese George
Darren Woodruff (former charter board): $50 to Jacque Patterson
2020 Donations by Wilson Bldg. Elected Officials (Current and Former)
(NB: I saw no donations from Muriel Bowser (except for Todd’s primary); Jack Evans: Mary Cheh; Charles Allen; and Vincent Gray, although Gray’s son gave $400 to Gray; $100 to Marcus Goodwin; $50 to Trayon White; and $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson. I also saw no donations from Phil Mendelson, Adrian Fenty, or Anthony Williams.)
Ward 1 CM Brianne Nadeau: $100 to Ed Lazere; $50 to Franklin Garcia; $100 to Christina Henderson; $50 to Monica Palacio; $50 to Janeese George
Ward 2 CM Brooke Pinto: Many thousands to her campaign
Ward 4 CM Brandon Todd: $200 to Jacque Patterson
Ward 5 CM Kenyan McDuffie: $51 to Robert White; $50 to Trayon White
Ward 8 CM Trayon White: $75 to Markus Batchelor; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson
At Large CM Robert White: $20 to Frazier O’Leary
At Large CM Elissa Silverman: $100 to Ed Lazere; $50 to Trayon White
At Large CM David Grosso: $50 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $100 to Christina Henderson
At Large CM Anita Bonds: $100 to Franklin Garcia (two staffers also appear to have given to Garcia)
Attorney General Karl Racine: $500 to Brooke Pinto; $100 to Ed Lazere; $50 to Janeese George; $50 to Trayon White
Yvette Alexander (former W 7 CM): $500 to Brooke Pinto; $100 to Vincent Orange; $20 to Dontrell Smith
David Catania (former at large CM): $500 to Brooke Pinto; $500 to Vincent Gray; $1000 to Robert White; $20 to Allister Chang
Tommy Wells (former Ward 6 CM, current dir of DOEE): $100 to Christina Henderson
2020 Donations by DC Education Leaders, Past and Present
(NB: I saw no donations from current chancellor Lewis Ferebee or from former chancellor Antwan Wilson. I also saw no donations from current deputy mayor for education Paul Kihn or from recently resigned head of OSSE Hanseul Kang.)
Faith Gibson Hubbard (former chief student advocate), $20 to Karen Williams; $100 to Christina Henderson; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson; $25 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $100 to Robert White; $25 to Jacque Patterson
Serena Hayes (ombudsman for education): $100 to Robert White
Joyanna Smith (former education ombudsman, now Rocketship staffer): $100 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $100 to Vincent Gray (per the spreadsheet on his finances, not the database)
Jennifer Niles (former deputy mayor for education and now current staffer for CityBridge): $200 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $100 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to Christina Henderson
Kaya Henderson (former DCPS chancellor with education org. called Teach for All): $100 to Christina Henderson
Abigail Smith (former deputy mayor for education, board member of Education Forward, trustee of EL Haynes charter school): $100 to Christina Henderson; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson
Ahnna Smith (former acting deputy mayor for education): $50 Jacque Patterson; $100 to Christina Henderson
Victor Reinoso (former deputy mayor for education now with Bellwether Education Partners), $100 to Christina Henderson; $100 to Ed Lazere
2020 Donations by DFER DC Staff
Ramin Taheri: $100 to Vincent Gray; $100 to Jacque Patterson
Jessica Giles (former council staffer): $500 to Vincent Gray; $100 to Jacque Patterson; $25 to Monica Palacio; $100 to Christina Henderson
Erika Harrell: nothing, but $250 to Vincent Gray from her husband, Lamont Harrell
2020 Donations by Current and Former State Board of Education Members
W1 rep Emily Gasoi: $50 to Robert White; $50 to Ed Lazere; $20 to Frazier O’Leary; $100 to Markus Batchelor; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson
W2 rep Jack Jacobson: $25 to Jacque Patterson; $25 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $20 to Allister Chang; $50 to Randy Downs; $50 to Christina Henderson; $20 to Karen Williams
W3 rep Ruth Wattenberg: $150 to Robert White; $20 to Frazier O’Leary; $100 to Markus Batchelor
W4 rep Frazier O’Leary: $200 to Robert White; $100 to Markus Batchelor (along with a relative who also gave $100 to Markus Batchelor); $50 to Janeese George
W5 rep Zachary Parker: $50 to Robert White; $100 to Marcus Goodwin; $100 to Ed Lazere; $100 to Markus Batchelor; $20 to Frazier O’Leary
W6 rep Jessica Sutter: $50 to Jacque Patterson; $50 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $25 to Chander Jayaraman; $25 to Christina Henderson; $20 to Karen Williams; $25 to Markus Batchelor; $20 to Frazier O’Leary
W7 rep Karen Williams: $100 to Ed Lazere
W8 rep Markus Batchelor: $25 to Jacque Patterson; $25 to Trayon White; $25 to Mysiki Valentine; $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson; $20 to Frazier O’Leary
At Large rep Ashley MacLeay: nothing, but husband gave $50 to Chander Jayaraman
Laura Wilson Phelan (head of Kindred, formerly of Flamboyan): $100 to LaJoy Johnson-Law; $100 to Jacque Patterson; $100 to Ed Lazere; $100 to Christina Henderson
Joe Weedon (spokesperson for WTU): $50 to Robert White; $75 to Markus Batchelor (his wife gave $50 to Markus Batchelor); $25 to Mysiki Valentine (wife also gave $25 to Mysiki Valentine); $20 to Eboni-Rose Thompson
Laura Slover (head of CenterPoint Education): $96 to Markus Batchelor
Mark Jones: $500 to Vincent Gray; $50 to Trayon White; $100 to Vincent Orange (along with relative who also gave $100 to Orange)
Mary Lord: $35 to Marcus Goodwin; $10 to Vincent Gray; $50 to Robert White; $70 to Christina Henderson; $100 to Markus Batchelor
Finally, an interesting note:
State board rep. for Ward 5 Zachary Parker is not running for office this year, but appeared to have people donating to him the year after his election in 2018, including former charter board executive director Scott Pearson ($200), charter board member Naomi Shelton ($200), and Scott Pearson’s wife ($200)—all with a donor address of 200 Q St. NE. Whether this is simply a mistake (and/or the start of a slightly risque joke), or something to truly worry about (given personnel, timing, and potential influence trading), remains to be seen.
In the meantime, stay tuned for support of specific candidates in part 2 of this series.