Charter School Industry Attempts to Buy Public Policy and Undermine Democracy in Connecticut with Array of PACs

    Media Contacts
  • Cheri Quickmire Executive Director, Common Cause in CT c: 860-539-6846 cquickmire@commoncause.org
  • Tom Swan Executive Director, Connecticut Citizen Action Group c: 860-729-5712 tswan@igc.org

Hartford, CT, December 20, 2018 — Wealthy individuals with ties to the charter school industry used charter school Super PACs to shift control of public education into private hands, enriching themselves, attempting to weaken teacher unions, communities of color and democracy in the process.

Common Cause in Connecticut and Connecticut Citizen Action Group researched who spent large sums to influence the state’s public education system with “independent expenditures” to charter school Super PACs. The two groups released a new report today, entitled Who is Buying Our Education System? Charter School Super PACs in Connecticut.

“We must protect Connecticut’s public schools from attacks by wealthy Super PAC donors and dark money,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut. “With this research, we reveal stealth donors who want to profit from their investments in privately run charter schools, at the expense of Connecticut’s public school students and teachers,” added Quickmire.

Among the biggest donors to charter school Super PACs was Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune, who donated $195,000 to local Super PACs in 2018 alone, to strengthen a movement for controversial market-based education reform. The Build Connecticut and Change Course Connecticut PACs receive most of their funding from Walton.

Charter schools have attracted a new wave of donors who made their fortunes in the high-technology and finance industries. Many aim to disrupt and weaken public educational institutions for urban, minority and often low-income children. These PACs often targeted Black and Latino state legislators, many of whom ran for office unopposed, to persuade the legislators to support their efforts to privatize educational institutions and limit educational opportunity.

Some of the more troubling findings from this new research:

• Since 2016, six charter school Super PACs in Connecticut have received $512,958 in donations, with 58 percent of this amount originating from out-of-state sources.

• Just 26 donors have contributed virtually all of the more than half a million dollars that have been contributed to these Super PACs. Ten donors contributed 91 percent of these donations.

• Two-thirds of charter school Super PAC individual donors have had a direct management role in charter school advocacy groups and/or the charter schools themselves, as current or former board members or staff of these organizations. Thus, wealthy individuals who privately manage the charter school industry are donating large sums to persuade state legislators to privatize public education, and ultimately profit from this change.

“Education is an equalizer. These contributions only serve to exacerbate inequality and undermine our public institutions,” said Tom Swan, executive director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group. “Our research underscores how wealthy people linked to the charter school industry are rigging our electoral system. They are quietly and methodically undermining voters’ wishes, under cover of charter school Super PACs,” added Swan.

We learned that monied interests set up “independent” political action committees for each of the major parties. In one case, they spent to support two opposing candidates in one state Senate district.

They employed a spending strategy in non-competitive elections, presumably to curry favor with the winners.

The donors worked to hide their efforts, by establishing multiple committees, selecting bland, unremarkable PAC names and participating in a legislative Super PAC. Because candidates are not permitted to coordinate with donors who make independent expenditures, they cannot be held responsible for these undemocratic schemes.

If Connecticut voters want to protect their strong public education system, we need to expose those who are trying to rig the system for the benefit of a wealthy few, many of them named in our report.

Demanding more educational opportunity will benefit us all and strengthen our democracy.

The report may be found online here: http://www.commoncause.org/connecticut/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/12/Charter-school-PAC-report-121818-final_19012.pdf