Tag Archives: PACs

Stand for Children PACs could face big fines

A pro-charter school organization and the four Nashville school board candidates it backed in August are subject to combined civil penalties potentially totaling $685,000, according to The Tennessean.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on Tuesday sent a show cause letter to Stand for Children and candidates Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely and Jackson Miller.

The violations relate to the candidates coordinating with Stand for Children and its two political action committees to find campaign workers. The coordination, first reported by The Tennessean, stemmed from an email between Stand for Children’s political director, Dan O’Donnell, and the executive director of the Martha O’Bryan Center, a nonprofit group that operates two charter schools.

…According to the ethics bureau’s board of directors, that coordination caused the four candidates to eclipse campaign contribution limits. Each campaign is subject to a fine equal to 115 percent of the difference between the contribution cap of $7,600 and the amount of the unreported political help provided by Stand for Children. That comes out to about $70,000 in potential fines per campaign, and Stand for Children’s political action committee is subject to the same potential fine for each infraction.

TN StudentFirst: New name, same staff & game plan

News release from TennesseeCAN
NASHVILLE, TN- Today, StudentsFirst Tennessee announced the continuation of its statewide education advocacy efforts under the new name and organizational structure of the Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now (TennesseeCAN).

As part of the transition, TennesseeCAN will now operate as an official member of the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) network. In March 2016, StudentsFirst and 50CAN announced they would merge.

“We are excited to continue our work on behalf of Tennessee students and families,” said state Executive Director Brent Easley. “We have an exciting vision for our priorities in 2017 and we are looking forward to rolling those out in the coming weeks.  Also, we are constantly working to push our operation to improve, and by joining the 50CAN network, this merger represents a great opportunity to combine the strengths of both organizations for an improved and more effective advocacy effort.”

TennesseeCAN will function as a new and autonomous organization whose legislative agenda, policy priorities, staff and underlying mission remains unchanged.

Since 2011, the organization has overseen one of the state’s premier non-profit education policy and advocacy movements focused on broadening student access to great schools and great teachers. During those years, the team has championed many high-profile reform initiatives, including proposed Opportunity Scholarships legislation, expanded charter school authorizing practices, transparent A-F school letter grades, and many other policies to bring quality education to Tennessee families that need it most.

As part of the announcement, TennesseeCAN released its first annual Tennessee Education Snapshot.  The report provides a broad and interactive view of Tennessee’s most essential education statistics.  It includes a comprehensive collection of facts and data ranging from academic achievement measures and student demographics to teacher preparation figures and tax dollar cost distributions, all within the context of larger national comparisons.

In examining the key data points within the Tennessee Education Snapshot, Easley noted, “We have experienced extraordinary growth over the past five years that is due to the hard work of our educators, students, and innovative state policies, and there are still opportunities for our state to improve. This ‘Education Snapshot’ both outlines current data in Tennessee education and informs the work ahead to ensure our state is not only a national model for education policy, but a leader in overall performance as well.”

Note: the ‘Snapshot’ is HERE.

Registry board votes to review activities of Stand for Children PAC

The Registry of Election Finance board has taken the first step toward a hearing on allegations against the Stand for Children political action committee and several Nashville school board candidates it supported violated campaign finance laws, reports The Tennessean.

A complaint against the PAC was filed by Tennessee Citizens Action, which bills itself as promoting consumer rights and civic action.The complaint contends Stand for Children illegally coordinated its activities with several pro-charter school candidates during the election.

“My gut feeling is there is enough smoke to open up and look at it,” said Tom Lawless, chairman of the registry board. He added: “If they violated (the law), we need to be consistent. We don’t have to be punitive, we can be constructive.”

The complaint was filed Aug. 4, a day before Nashville’s school board elections, and cites a story by The Tennessean that details emails sent by the head of a prominent Nashville nonprofit that appear to show she coordinated with Stand for Children to find campaign workers for the four school board candidates.

It also cites a July 29 WSMV report that says Stand for Children Director Daniel O’Donnell met with candidate Thom Druffel during a 10-day mandatory blackout period before the election. Stand’s attorney said O’Donnell took a day off from work that day and was not in violation of the law.

Stephen Zralek, an attorney with Nashville law firm Bone McAllester Norton PLLC who represents Stand for Children, said the organization takes election ethics issues seriously and consistently follows the law.

“The Registry’s order is standard procedure whenever a complaint is filed. We look forward to answering the Registry’s questions and providing an accurate account of the facts,” he said in a Wednesday email.

Gerard Stranch, the attorney who filed the complaint, told the registry he thought it was clear that there was evidence Stand for Children exceeded campaign contribution limits by coordinating with candidates, and violated laws banning donations by a PAC within a “blackout period” in the days immediately leading up to the election.

Beavers selling Trump stuff for PAC profit

State Sen. Mae Beavers and her husband, Jerry, are selling homemade Donald Trump campaign materials with profits going to Beavers’ political action committee rather than the Republican party or the Trump campaign, reports The Tennessean.

Beavers, who served as a Trump delegate and chair of Tennessee delegation at the Republican National Convention, has a booth at the Wilson County fair this weekend as well as a storefront operation.

Interested buyers will be able to choose from a host of different options ranging from $15 hats and T-shirts to $3 buttons and $5 yard signs.

Although the material, which features Trump and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s name on it, may look official, it was actually printed by the Beaverses.

“My husband and I have purchased it,” she told The Tennessean, explaining that the couple spent $5,000 to print gear that includes camouflage, red, black or blue hats and black and blue T-shirts that go as large as 2XL.

On Friday, Beavers said the fact that she’s selling homemade Trump gear, which she said was all made in the United States, is not an unusual practice.

“Everybody’s doing this all over the state,” she said. Continue reading

Independent expenditures mostly flopped in legislative races

The outcome of last week’s primary elections in state legislative races were a mixed bag for groups with an education reform agenda in next year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the results perhaps indicating an overall negative for those advocating charter schools and vouchers.

The striking theme in legislative races was that challenged incumbents won in both Democratic and Republican primaries in 44 of 46 contests. The two notable exceptions: The defeats of Rep. Jeremey Durham, R-Franklin, who had suspended his campaign after an attorney general’s report declaring he had sexually harassed 22 women, and Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who was jailed a few days before the primary for allegedly stealing opponent Mark Lovell’s yard signs.

Both of the losers had been targets for six-figure independent expenditure attacks by PACs oriented to education issues. In Durham’s case, the attack ads were led by Stand For Children, a group focused largely on charter schools, and most of the ads came before the public disclosure of what the attorney general called “sexual interactions” with women and Durham’s campaign suspension. Thus, they may have had little to do with Durham’s landslide loss to challenger Sam Whitson.

Todd, on the other hand, had been targeted with more than $100,000 in attack advertising by Tennessee Federation for Children, which focuses almost exclusively in pushing school vouchers. The returns show Lovell won in early voting, which had ended before Todd’s arrest, which could indicate the early July AFC ads had an impact on the outcome. Continue reading

Sunday column: Independent spenders educating voters?

Speculating on trends on money in Tennessee politics, halfway through the 2016 election season:

In the 2014 legislative elections, the cheapest seat in the House was won by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who reported spending a total of $235.38 in winning re-election. In a solidly Democratic district, he had no primary opponent that year, but he did have a token Republican foe who reported spending exactly $200.

The most expensive 2014 House seat, going by total campaign expenditures, went to Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who spent $270,141 to be re-elected. In a solidly Republican district, he had a primary opponent who was outspent substantially, but no November foe. Continue reading

On uncoordinated Stand for Children spending

Stand for Children’s two political action committees that are spending heavily in Tennessee campaigns this summer – more than $700,000 in the case of an independent expenditure group and about $130,000 in direct donations – tell the Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish they don’t coordinate efforts.

Excerpt from the article, entitled “Stop the Dark Money Now:”

So, I called Dan O’Donnell, the Nashville director for the organization, and asked him about the money (in particular a mailer attacking Nashville School Board incumbent Will Pinkston).

“I found out about that when you did,” he said, then went through an explanation. Stand for Children Tennessee PAC, which he works for, is completely separate from the Stand for Children Tennessee Independent Expenditure Committee. Even though O’Donnell’s PAC gave huge donations directly to the campaigns for Thom Druffel, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller and Jane Grimes Meneely, there was absolutely no coordination between that money and the tens of thousands of dollars spent by a committee controlled by the national office of the same organization. An organization that shares national leadership. And money. And whose address on 18th Avenue South is exactly the same. And spent money on exactly the same candidates.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

I reached out to Krista Spurgin, who was responsible for the spending, which in the case of every candidate but Jackson Miller represented more money than the candidates were able to raise on their own.

“My current title is National Campaigns Director, but I am concurrently serving as the Stand for Children Tennessee IEC Chair,” Spurgin said. So a political operative in Denver, who shares the same leadership as the locals here in Tennessee, is directing hundreds of thousands of dollars into local school board races from a slush fund of charter advocates in Oregon.

If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough. The current campaign finance system, which lets so-called social welfare organizations launder unlimited money from rich interests — in this case money from Walmart and Microsoft billionaires — into local races, is asinine. They are picking candidates who support their worldview and turning on a firehose of attack ads, direct mail and digital marketing.

Note: Previous related post HERE.

On education PAC money in Memphis legislative races

Start of a Chalkbeat Tennessee report on campaign financing in Memphis area legislative races:

In Memphis, where efforts to improve schools are helping to reshape the city, at least six candidates running in contested races for the Tennessee House of Representatives are attracting money from groups and individuals with education policy goals.

The candidates, all of whom are running in the Democratic primary election on Thursday, received tens of thousands of dollars from political action committees attached to advocacy organizations including Tennessee Federation for Children and the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, according to campaign finance disclosure reports released late last week by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

And one candidate, Tami Sawyer, has attracted the financial support of high-profile individuals including Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.

Keith Williams, a pastor who testified this year at the state Capitol in favor of school vouchers, is running for the District 85 seat against incumbent Johnnie Turner, a former Memphis teacher who has voted against vouchers.

In District 90, which stretches from Frayser and North Memphis to South Memphis, Teach For America community organizer Tami Sawyer is running against incumbent John DeBerry, perhaps the legislature’s most vocal proponent of vouchers. Sawyer, who has called for “comprehensive public education reform,” said she does not have a position on vouchers at this time.

And in District 98, Johnnie Hatten, a leader with the parent group called Memphis Lift, which is tied to the Achievement School District, is facing off against Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a vocal critic of the state-run school turnaround district who has advocated for stemming its expansion. The district includes Raleigh and parts of Bartlett and North Memphis.

Williams, Hatten and DeBerry all have the backing of political action committees attached to advocacy groups including the Tennessee Federation for Children and StudentsFirst Tennessee, which aim to increase school choice options across the state, particularly in the form of vouchers. Williams also has received $5,000 from his employer, Campaign for School Equity, formerly known as the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Those candidates also have benefitted from thousands of dollars worth of mailers and advertisements paid for by those group. Tennessee Federation for Children, for example, has spent about $27,000 on materials supporting DeBerry, $15,000 on materials supporting Williams, $17,000 on materials opposing Turner, Williams’ opponent.

In separate statements, Tennessee Federation for Children and StudentsFirst said they chose to support candidates based on their qualifications in education, deep ties to the community, and openness to school choice policies, including vouchers, that the organizations believe will improve educational opportunities in Memphis. A proposal to offer private school tuition vouchers to low-income students has divided the legislature for almost a decade and this year advanced the farthest it’s ever come before fizzling on the House floor.

On the other hand, Turner and Parkinson have received relatively small amounts from the state teacher union’s political action committee in recognition of their stances against vouchers and their cautious approach to expanding the ASD.

Sawyer hasn’t garnered support from education advocacy organizations, but she has received small donations from individuals involved in Memphis education such as Hopson.

Note: Commercial Appeal columnist David Waters lives in state Rep. Antonio Parkinson’s district and is not impressed with the direct mail pieces he’s been getting from special interest PACs. An interesting read, HERE.

More on Haslam donations to legislator campaigns

Gov. Bill Haslam has sent funds from his political action committee to 43 incumbent Republican legislators, including a dozen who face opponents in Thursday’s primary election, according to a report filed last week with the state Registry of Election Finance.

Haslam took $150,000 from his 2014 re-election campaign leftovers and transferred it to his PAC, registered as JOBS4TN. He then distributed the PAC money to the incumbent lawmakers, most of them facing no opposition to re-election either in the primary or general election.

“Those folks who have been really helpful to us, we want to make certain that we help. You aren’t governor by yourself. It really takes the right people in the Legislature to help you,” the governor said in a comment passed along via email from spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals.

The legislators reported receiving Haslam donations while facing Republican primary opposition are Sens. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Dolores Gresham of Somerville along with Reps. David Alexander of Winchester, Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson, Jeremey Faison of Cosby, Curtis Halford of Dyer, Gary Hicks of Rogersville, Kelly Keisling of Byrdstown, Charles Sargent of Franklin, Curry Todd of Collierville, Ron Travis of Dayton and Tim Wirgau of Buchanan. Continue reading

Three PACs with education agendas put $1.2M into TN politics

In their final disclosures before Thursday’s elections, three political action committees advocating vouchers and charter school expansion spent more than $1.2 million in Tennessee political campaigns with almost all the money coming from outside the state.

The reports also show the groups are poised to potentially spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more in the final days of campaigning. That spending won’t be disclosed until October.

In several campaigns for seats in the state Legislature, a PAC spent more in the period covered — July 1 through July 25 — than the candidates themselves have spent in their entire campaigns.

For example, Tennessee Federation for Children, reported “independent expenditures” totaling $79,587 in attacking state Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, during the period and another $6,339 on a mailer supporting his opponent in the Republican primary, real estate agent Cynthia Bundren Jackson. Under relevant laws, such spending cannot be coordinated with a candidate.

For the entire campaign, Hicks has spent $46,123, according to his disclosures dating back to last year, while Jackson has spent $63,266.
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