As the continuing John Doe investigation continues into Scott Walker’s sordid past and with the stealth activities of the current Republican-plagued Wisconsin Legislature quietly moving toward ALEC-driven mining laws, corporatized schools, anti-choice overstepping and other issues, there is a very important state Supreme Court race in the works with conservative Justice Patience Roggensack getting lots of money from outside Wisconsin. Some of the contributions include:
- $2,050 from Alice Walton, a Wal-mart heir from Texas who has for years been one of the nation’s top donors to “school choice” campaigns.
- $1,850 from Jim Walton, another Wal-mart heir from Arkansas who is a big donor to “school choice” campaigns.
- $1,750 from Lynne Walton, still another Wal-mart heir from Arkansas who is a big donor to “school choice” campaigns.
- $2,000 from Dick DeVos, a Michigan millionaire who has funded assaults on public education nationwide.
- $1,800 from Betsy DeVos, another Michigan millionaire who has funded groups that attack public education, teachers and their unions.
While many are familiar with the antics of the Koch Brothers, the fabulously wealthy billionaire right-wing DeVos family is equally funding efforts to destroy environmental policies and regulations, eviscerate unions, defund and implode public schools and privatize social security. Promoting school vouchers to destroy public education is a main mission with Roggensack’s funders.
Wal-Mart heir John Walton, the movement’s most prolific giver, gave seed money to the pro-voucher group CEO America and $2 million to Michigan’s 2000 voucher ballot initiative. Walton bankrolls a massive private voucher program along with financier Ted Forstmann and runs a charter school management company. And through the Walton Family Foundation, Walton supports advocacy groups, think tanks, and legal nonprofits that promote vouchers and tax credits.
Alticor Inc. President Dick DeVos directed the 2000 Michigan voucher initiative and, with family members, spent $5 million on this measure – which voters rejected by a 70-30 margin. DeVos and his wife, Betsy, are continuing their anti-public education assault through a new nonprofit organization that promotes a skewed report claiming that 90 percent of Michigan’s public schools are failing.
Think Progress has compiled a great list of some of the major right-wing billionaires (besides the Koch Brothers) who are buying politicians, judges and others in their quest to take public schooling out of the American landscape:
– Dick DeVos: The DeVos family has been active on education issues since the 1990?s. The son of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, Sr., DeVos unsuccessfully ran for governor of the state of Michigan, spending $40 million, the most ever spent in a gubernatorial race in the state. In 2002, Dick DeVos sketched out a plan to undermine public education before the Heritage Foundation, explaining that education advocates should stop using the term “public schools” and instead call them “government schools.” He has poured millions of dollars into right-wing causes, including providing hundreds of thousands of dollars into seed money for numerous “school choice” groups, including Utah’s Parents for Choice in Education, which used its PAC money to elect pro-voucher politicians.
– Betsy DeVos: The wife of Dick DeVos, she also coincidentally happens to be the sister of Erik Prince, the leader of Xe, the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater and is a former chair of the Republican Party of Michigan. Mrs. DeVos has been much more aggressive than her husband, pouring her millions into numerous voucher front groups across the country. She launched the pro-voucher group All Children Matter in 2003, which spent $7.6 million in its first year alone to impact state races related vouchers, winning 121 out of 181 races in which it intervened. All Children Matter was found breaking campaign finance laws in 2008, yet has still not paid its $5.2 million fine. She has founded and/or funded a vast network of voucher front groups, including Children First America, the Alliance for School Choice, Kids Hope USA, and the American Federation for Children.
- American Federation for Children (AFC): AFC made headlines recently when it brought together Govs. Scott Walker (R-WI) and Tom Corbett (R-PA) and former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee at a major school choice event in Washington, D.C. AFC is perhaps the most prominent of all the current voucher groups, having been founded in January 2010 by Betsy DeVos. Working together with its PAC of the same name and the 501c(3) organization also lead by DeVos, the Alliance for School Choice, it has served as a launching pad for school choice legislation across the country. AFC made its mark in Wisconsin by pouring thousands of dollars into the state legislative races, donating $40,000 in the service of successfully electing voucher advocate Rep. Kathy Bernier (R) and donating similar amounts to elect Reps. Andre Jacque (R), John Klenke (R), Tom Larson (R), Howard Marklein (R), Erik Severson (R), and Travis Tranel (R). DeVos front group All Children Matter also donated thousands to many of these same voucher advocates. Altogether, AFC spent $820,000 in Wisconsin during the last election, making it the 7th-largest single PAC spender during the election (behind several other mostly right-wing groups with similar agendas).
- Alliance for School Choice (ASC): The Alliance for School Choice is another DeVos front group founded to promote vouchers and serves as the education arm of AFC. In 2008, the last date available for its financial disclosures, its total assets amounted to $5,467,064. DeVos used the organization not only for direct spending into propaganda campaigns, but to give grants to organizations with benign-sounding names so that they could push the radical school choice agenda. For example, in 2008 the organization gave $530,000 grant to the “Black Alliance for Educational Options” in Washington, D.C. and a $433,736 grant to the “Florida School Choice Fund.” This allowed DeVos to promote her causes without necessarily revealing her role. But it isn’t just the DeVos family that’s siphoning money into the Alliance for School Choice and its many front group patrons. Among its other wealthy funders include the Jaquelin Hume Foundation (which gave $75,000 in 2008 and $100,000 in 2006), the brainchild of one of an ultra-wealthy California businessman who brought Ronald Reagan to power, the powerful Wal Mart Foundation (which gave $100,000 in 2005, the Chase Foundation of Virginia (which gave $9,000 in 2007, 2008, and the same amount in 2009), which funds over “supports fifty nonprofit libertarian/conservative public policy research organizations,” and hosts investment banker Derwood Chase, Jr. as a trustee, the infamous oil billionaire-driven Charles Koch Foundation ($10,000 in 2005), and the powerful Wal Mart family’s Walton Family Foundation (more than $3 million over 2004-2005).
- Bill and Susan Oberndorf: This Oberndorfs use their fortune, gained from Bill’s position as the managing director of the investment firm SPO Partners, to funnel money to a wide variety of school choice and corporate education reform groups. In 2009, their Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation gave $376,793 to AFC, $5,000 to the Center for Education Reform, and $50,000 to the Brighter Choice Foundation. Additionally, Bill Oberndorf gave half a million dollars to the school choice front group All Children Matter between 2005 and 2007. At a recent education panel, Bill Oberndorf was credited with giving “tens of millions” of dollars of his personal wealth to the school choice movement, and said that the passage of the Indiana voucher law was the “gold standard” for what should be done across America.
- The Walton Family Foundation (WFF):The Wal Mart-backed WFF is one of the most powerful foundations in the country, having made investments in 2009 totaling over $378 million. In addition to financing a number of privately-managed charter schools itself, the foundation showered ASC with millions of dollars in 2009. It also gave over a million dollars to the New York-based Brighter Choice Foundation, half a million dollars to the Florida School Choice Fund, $105,000 to the Foundation for Educational Choice, $774,512 to the Friends of Educational Choice, $400,000 to School Choice Ohio, and gave $50,000 to the Piton Foundation to promote a media campaign around the Colorado School Choice website — all in 2009 alone. WFF’s push for expanding private school education and undermining traditional public schools was best summed up by John Walton’s words in an interview in 2000. An interviewer asked him, “Do you think there’s money to be made in education?” Walton replied, “Absolutely. I think it will offer a reasonable return for investors.” (He also did vigorously argue in the same interview that he does not want to abolish public education).
More coverage from Wisconsin Watch shows the importance of the race, which will probably be close and certainly be costly:
Justice Patience Roggensack, who has already served one 10-year term on the state’s highest court, is expected to survive the cut. Her challengers are Ed Fallone, a Marquette University Law School professor, and Vince Megna, a Milwaukee lawyer specializing in suing auto companies. The general election is April 2.
Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 4, according to the most recent reporting, Roggensack had raised about $200,000, compared to Fallone’s $75,000 and Megna’s $0. Roggensack reported having $219,154 cash on hand, compared to Fallone’s $63,713 and Megna’s $5,340. Most of Megna’s money came from a $10,000 contribution to himself.
What this Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice means is that the conservative majority could remain in power and shuffle through the Walker agenda and even come into play with the turn of events that could happen with Walker’s John Doe investigation.
Many in the progressive community are favoring Ed Fallone for the February 19 primary. Here is some commentary where Russ Feingold is showing his support:
When former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who for many years chaired the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed Fallone, he said, “In addition to his intellectual know-how, Ed has a proven commitment to fair treatment in our justice system. His work in the community and on campus has helped working people obtain legal representation when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a lawyer. Ed is exactly the kind of fair-minded person we need making legal decisions on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And we have a lot of work to do to get out in front of the out-of-state billionaires and corporate interests who are willing to spend millions to buy their way out of facing an impartial judge.”
We share that view, as we do Feingold’s observation: “Ed won’t be beholden to corporate interests that want to make the court a wing of their political operation.”
Ed Fallone was interviewed about the upcoming race.