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Corporate Education Reformers Spend $563,000 and counting in Bridgeport loss

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by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

The final reports from Bridgeport’s November 2012 education reform referendum are in and it turns out that the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent at least $562,955.16 in their effort to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s anti-democracy initiative, a proposal that would have eliminated the City’s democratically elected board of education and replaced it with one appointed by the mayor.

In the end, Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed by Mayor Finch and his supporters, spent a total of $275,671.80 in the November 2012 referendum campaign that ended with Mayor Finch’s plan going down to defeat by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

Excel Bridgeport, the corporate funded education reform group that has been lobbying for Bridgeport’s public school privatization efforts reported spending $101,803.36.

And when the dust settled, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (which goes by the name of Great New England Public School Alliance) spent a total of $185,480.

Organization Reported Total Spending
Residents for a Better Bridgeport $275,671.80
Excel Bridgeport $101,803.36
StudentsFirst/GNEPSA $185,480
TOTAL $562,955.16

 

Taken together, the level of spending by the education reformers broke all Connecticut records for a referendum vote.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport:

In their final campaign finance report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport reported raising another $94,444 in the final week of the campaign, bringing the total amount the group raised (and spent) to over $275,000.

Late corporate campaign donations came in from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation; Bridgeport based Enviro Express Inc., Mellon Bank, Danbury’s Morganti Group Inc., Bridgeport’s Trefz Corporation and Webster Bank, as well as a number of smaller corporate donations.

Webster Bank’s contribution was for $10,000, Mellon Bank put in $5,000 and the Trefz Corporation added $7,000 to the campaign effort.

The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation, which was created by Andy Boas, the Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, gave the anti-democracy political action committee $14,000.

According to the Charter Oak Challenge Foundation’s website, the charity “was founded to help children and families who have the ability to succeed but need financial support to realize their potential. Its founder, Andy Boas, wanted to improve the languishing conditions in Bridgeport by funding a meaningful program for children’s education.”

The final report also revealed that Jonathan Sackler gave the PAC a check for $50,000 just after the last pre-election report was due.

Sackler was the early funder behind Stefan Pryor’s creation of Achievement First, Inc., the larger charter school management company that owns 20 schools in New York and Connecticut and is working to get approval to expand their present schools as well as build new schools in Connecticut. Stefan Pryor is now Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Sackler was also the funding force behind the corporate education reform advocacy groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, and the national education reform advocacy group 50-CAN.

Most recently, it came to light that Sackler hosted a major fundraiser for Prosperity for Connecticut, the political action committee affiliated with Governor Malloy. Collecting over $42,000, Sackler’s May 2012 fundraiser was the most successful event Malloy’s political action committee has had to date.

What is particularly noteworthy about Sackler $50,000 donation is that since Residents for a Better Bridgeport was registered as a “Referendum PAC,” the maximum allowable donation under Connecticut law was $14,442.90.

How Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC believes it could legally accept Sackler’s $50,000 donation is not clear.

Finally, the Residents for a Better Bridgeport final report included a $1,000 contribution from Connecticut Future PAC, Inc. Connecticut Future PAC, Inc. was the independent “super-PAC” created to support Chris Murphy’s campaign for the United States Senate. The PAC, which spent over $485,000 to support Murphy’s campaign, donated $1,000, after Election Day, to the Finch referendum effort.

According to the final report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC spent about $55,000 more on direct mail, $57,000 for phone banking services and $25,000 more for polling. Much of the remaining funding went to at least 132 campaign workers, who in the case of the Residents for a Better Bridgeport were labeled “consultants.”

Excel Bridgeport, Inc:

In its final report of the campaign, Excel Bridgeport reported that they spent a total of $101,803.36, of which $66,900 went for direct mail.

Excel Bridgeport’s direct mail vendor was a company called Campaignswon. According to the company’s website, one of the firm’s partners is Bridgeport’s Jorge Cabrera.

Cabrera is also Excel Bridgeport’s “Community Organizer” and while the Excel Bridgeport campaign finance reports show various reimbursements to Cabrera for supplies, they do not report any in-kind contribution of time. Failure to report direct or in-kind expenditures is a violation of Connecticut campaign finance law.

Much of Excel Bridgeport’s remaining expenditures went to cover the costs of more than two dozen field staff who were paid for services described as “direct outreach and/or holding signs.”

StudentsFirst/Greater New England Public School Alliance (GNEPSA):

In an earlier report, StudentsFirst/Great New England Public School Alliance reported paying $97,000 to a company called FieldWins for door-to-door canvassers. FieldWins is a New York company that formed a parallel entity in Connecticut. The final set of reports from Michelle Rhee’s organization indicated that later in the campaign she paid $35,000 to a company named SKD Knickerbocker for television ads and another $53,480 to FieldWins for additional canvassing services.

And $700 for Vallas’ Haitian Activities:

And one of the strangest twists, after spending nearly $563,000 in their failed attempt to persuade Bridgeport voters to undermine their own democratic rights, Residents for a Better Bridgeport ended the campaign with surplus funds of $702.79. The political action committee donated the $700 to Los Angeles based J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

In February 2011, Bridgeport Superintendent of School, Paul Vallas, joined the J/P Haitian Relief Organization’s Board of Directors.

According to the charity’s IRS filings, “J/P HRO RUNS AN ACCREDITED IN-CAMP SCHOOL, ECOLE DE ‘L’ESPOIR’ (‘SCHOOL OF HOPE’), WHICH NOW SERVES AROUND 550 CHILDREN. J/P HRO ALSO IS IMPLEMENTING A PROGRAM FOR YOUTH WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED THEIR PRIMARY EDUCATION TO GIVE THEM THE FOUNDATION THEY NEED TO CONTINUE THEIR EDUCATION BEYOND THE PRIMARY LEVEL.”

It has remained unclear what compensation or benefits, if any, Vallas receives from his work in Haiti but the Foundation’s annual report indicates that last year they provided over $60,000 in “in-kind” services for that education program.

Campaign Finance Violations:

As Wait, What? readers know, following complaints I filed with the Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Commission voted to authorize individual investigations into alleged campaign finance violations by Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport and Michelle Rhee and her Great New England Public Schools Alliance. These most recent reports reveal a number of other apparent violations of Connecticut law.

Future posts will outline these myriad of campaign finance issues.

Readers will also recall that these latest donations come on top of tens of thousands of dollars in previous donations from companies and individuals that do business with the Finch Administration or rely on Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport Democrats for support.

Earlier contributions to Finch’s referendum efforts included;

Aquarion Water Company which donated $14,000

Bridgeport Hospital which donated $14,422.90

Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Company $14,000

CT Coalition for Advancement Now (ConnAD) $14,000

Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment which donated $14,442.90

Jarvis Group LLC, NY (in-kind video) $14,376.40

Pullman and Comeley law firm $7,000

St. Vincent Medical Center which donated $14,400

United Illuminating which donated $10,000

In addition, there were some large individual contributions including one for $25,000 from Bradford Evans, a Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley and a $25,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

Categories: General

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