A Challenge for Campbell Brown’s The 74: Publicize Your Detailed History
In June 2015, former CNN anchor and anti-union, corporate reform pusher Campbell Brown officially launched The Seventy Four, which she describes as follows:
I am excited to announce the launch of a project I’ve been working on for some time now. As profiled in The Wall Street Journal today, The Seventy Four, a non-profit, non-partisan news site about education, is now a reality.
There are 74 million children under the age of 18 in the United States. And the unfortunate reality is that for many of these children, the public education system is broken.
Our mission at The Seventy Four is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children the education they deserve.
Visit our website at the74million.org.
When Michigan billionaire and democracy wrecker Betsy DeVos was nominated as US secretary of education, Brown was all in, as one might expect: DeVos is among the funders of Brown’s Seventy Four.
Brown wants the public to believe that her Seventy Four is an unbiased news source. On November 30, 2016, Politico reported that Brown decided to limit her role in covering DeVos on the Seventy Four because they “are friends”:
CAMPBELL BROWN STEPS BACK FROM COVERAGE: Campbell Brown, editor-in-chief of The 74, is “recusing herself” from her website’s news coverage of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. That’s according to a note from Romy Drucker, CEO of The 74, which will post online today. The note comes after reporters and activists in the last week have raised questions about Brown’s ties to DeVos and the ethics of covering her in The 74, which Brown maintains is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site. Critics have labeled the site as advocacy journalism.
— “We’ve received some inquiries about The 74’s relationship with Betsy DeVos,” Drucker’s note says. “In particular, her family foundation’s philanthropic donations to the site, our disclosures of any possible conflict of interest, and our standing policy on editorial independence. While we typically allow our article disclosures to stand by themselves, the current situation is unexpected and unprecedented — and deserves further transparency and explanation.”
— Brown and DeVos are friends, and Brown sits on the board of DeVos’ school choice advocacy group, the American Federation for Children. (DeVos resigned as chair last week after accepting Trump’s Cabinet offer.) In 2014, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation helped launch The 74 with a two-year grant — the amount of which wasn’t disclosed to Morning Education. “The final disbursement of those funds, in the first quarter of 2016, means that the foundation is only an active donor through the end of this year,” Drucker’s note says. “Obviously, given Ms. DeVos’s potential role in the federal government, The 74 will not be seeking additional funding for 2017 or beyond.” The website receives funding from a number of other education reform organizations like the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which has also funded education reporting at the Los Angeles Times. Last year, the American Federation for Children also sponsored a summit held by The 74 for Republican presidential candidates.
— Brown has also recused herself from covering New York’s Success Academy Charter Schools because she sits on the board. Drucker writes that The 74 will continue to post disclosures on articles that mention DeVos or the American Federation for Children. In a recent op-ed for The 74, Brown defended DeVos as Trump’s pick for education secretary. But when asked if she’d consider serving alongside her friend in the Trump administration, Brown said, “Absolutely not. Definitively.”
What is interesting is that The Seventy Four will not disclose the amount of DeVos’ contribution even as Seventy Four CEO Romy Drucker tries to downplay the mysterious contribution by saying that the final payment from DeVos to The Seventy Four (nonprofit name: The 74 Media, Inc.) is set to be paid before 2016 ends.
Drucker also states that since DeVos will be US secretary of education, The Seventy Four will not seek future funding from her foundation. However, DeVos will not be sitting on the board of her foundation while she is US ed secretary, so there really is no “obviously” about the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation not spending their money whithersoever they will, including at The Seventy Four.
The Seventy Four will not disclose the amount of the DeVos contribution, but “obviously” The Seventy Four will take no more DeVos money.
Not enough transparency from an organization that wants the public to trust it as a credible news source.
Even so, what is interesting about the direction that Brown’s The Seventy Four is taking is that it seems to have some legitimate journalists who are willing (an apparently able) to produce articles critical of corporate reform. (To my surprise, I have found myself retweeting 74 writer Matt Barnum of late.)
Of course, the problems for legitimate journalism at The Seventy Four involve the corporate reform bent of site’s list of funders (which includes Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Broad and Walton Foundations, hedge funder Daniel Loeb, Oxycontin’s Jonathan Sackler, and the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund); its corporate-reform-enmeshed board of directors— and its connection with polarizing Campbell Brown herself.
Brown’s history is inextricable with anti-union, neighborhood-public-school antagonism.
Indeed, there is not enough transparency regarding The Seventy Four’s history, including its connection to another of Brown’s nonprofits.
For the remainder of this post, I examine some of Campbell Brown’s nonprofits. I should not have to dig and do this. If the Seventy Four wishes to be regarded as a legitimate news site, it should clearly detail its history. The problem for The Seventy Four is that detailing its history (including its financial history) only raises questions regarding the site’s ability to be truly unbiased.
Here we go.
In June 2013, Campbell Brown formed the lobbying nonprofit, Parents’ Transparency Project (PTP), and registered it in Delaware. It reported total revenue of $1.2 million for June thru December 2013 and had one major expense of $1.1 million:
PTP is apolitical (Schneider’s note: supposedly meaning “non-political”) watchdog group whose mission is to bring transparency to the rules, deals, and contracts negotiated between our state and local governments and the teachers’ unions, and to help parents get a clear understanding of how the education bureaucracy works. PTP used media to generate public pressure against the DOE, the UFT, and city and state government of New York to be transparent and accountable in their procedures, contracts, and legislation affecting our students and their school system.
In October 2013, Mother Jones published an enlightening article on Brown’s PTP, which supposedly aimed to cleanse New York classrooms of union-protected sexual predator teachers. An excerpt:
Early one morning in July, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, pen in hand, notes fanned out in front of her. Viewers might have mistaken her as a fill-in host, but Brown had swung by 30 Rock in her new role as a self-styled education reformer, a crusader against sexual deviants in New York City public schools and the backward unions and bureaucrats getting in the way of firing them. “In many cases, we have teachers who were found guilty of inappropriate touching, sexual banter with kids, who weren’t fired from their jobs, who were given very light sentences and sent back to the classroom,” Brown, the mother of two young sons, explained.
Brown was there to plug her new venture, the Parents’ Transparency Project, a nonprofit “watchdog group” that “favors no party, candidate, or incumbent.” Though its larger aim is to “bring transparency” to how contracts are negotiated with teachers’ unions, PTP’s most prominent campaign is to fix how New York City handles cases of sexual misconduct involving teachers and school employees—namely by giving the city’s schools chancellor, a political appointee, ultimate authority in the process. …
Brown’s group paints the unions as the main obstacles to a crackdown on predators. Yet Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, says that the union’s New York City chapter already has a zero-tolerance policy in its contract, and that AFT only protects its members against “false allegations.” New York state law also mandates that any teacher convicted of a sex crime be automatically fired. It is the law, not union contracts, that requires that an independent arbitrator hear and mete out punishment in cases of sexual misconduct that fall outside criminal law. The quickest route to changing that policy may be lobbying lawmakers in Albany, not hammering teachers and their unions.
Brown did not want to lobby lawmakers in Albany. Instead, she pretty much closed PTP shop in 2014 in order to create another nonprofit.
According to the PTP 2014 tax form, PTP began 2014 with the $88,000 left over from 2013. Turns out PTP paid $30,000 of that $88,000 to Brown’s next nonprofit, the Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).
Brown began PEJ in December 2013 under a different name, All Kids Matter, Inc., and incorporated it in Delaware. In February 2014, she changed the name to Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ).
In March 2014, Brown filed for nonprofit status for PEJ under a New York City address. Brown reported that she expected PEJ to raise $3 million in grants and contributions from 12-19-2013 to 11-30-2014; $4 million from 12-01-2014 to 11-30-2015, and $5 million from 12-01-2015 to 11-30-2016.
Brown included the following description of PEJ’s purpose on the nonprofit application:
Inspired by the work of similar impact litigation around the country, the Applicant will seek to use the litigation process, combined with a public communications campaign, to reform harmful education laws and regulations that prevent our schools and school districts from providing all students with an excellent education. Through its public communications campaigns, the Applicant will seek to build relationships with families, community stakeholders and organizations — with the goal of forming effective working coalitions that will increase pressure on lawmakers and other decision makers to reform our educational system.
The Applicant’s initial focus will be on defending human and civil rights of children in New York State public schools. More particularly, the Applicant will help fund and support litigation challenging New York State education laws that operate to keep grossly ineffective teachers in public school classrooms. The Applicant hopes to be able to build on its initial activities in New York and to expand its activities into other states around the country.
In all events, the litigation promoted, supported or engaged in by the Applicant will be undertaken to benefit the general public. For example, in selecting rights to be defended, the Applicant will consider whether the litigation will have a substantial impact beyond the interest of the specific named plaintiffs. In addition, the selection of cases will be made by the Board, which is unrelated to, and independent of, any commercial entity retained by the Applicant. The Applicant does not expect to receive financial support from any of the persons being represented.
The Applicant will not, itself, provide legal representation to others, although it will institute and support litigation in order to defend children’s human and civil rights.
The “similar impact litigation” that inspired Brown’ s PEJ likely includes the case, Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association, which was considered a victory for organized labor when the US Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in March 2016 over unions’ collecting fees from nonmembers when nonmembers benefited from union advocacy, and the teacher tenure lawsuit, California’s Vergara case, which the California Supreme Court decided in August 2016 not to hear. Thus, the ruling on appeal (which was in favor of California teacher job protections) was allowed to stand.
As of this writing, Brown’s PEJ has filed lawsuits in New York, Minnesota, and New Jersey. In October 2016, a Minnesota judge tossed out the Minnesota suit for not connecting student test score outcomes with the state’s tenure laws. According to PEJ, the parents in the PEJ-backed MN lawsuit “are preparing to appeal.”
The only PEJ tax form available to date is this one spanning 12-01-14 to 11-30-16. It notes that PEJ had almost $2 million in contributions and grants from the prior year (apparently, no tax form was filed for this revenue) and $4.7 million for 2014-15. (As previously noted, Brown expected to raise $3 million in 2013-14 for PEJ and an additional $4 million in 2014-15. So, the combined, 2013-15 total is pretty close to projection.)
The surprise on the 2014 PEJ tax form is PEJ’s largest expense. It was not the New York case ($587,000), nor was it the Minnesota case ($534,000).
By far, the largest 2014-15 expense for Brown’s PEJ was a “special research project”:
The 74 Media (i.e., The Seventy Four). $2.37 million.
From the 2014 PEJ tax form:
74 Media The [PEJ] organization undertook a special research project to explore the landscape of digital media and communications about education. This research included an analysis of key stakeholders and organizations and development of several potential strategies for using digital media to inspire a conversation about education.
In the above “special project” language, Brown does not identify The 74 Media as a nonprofit in its own right, one that she also runs, and that is receiving a $2.37 million grant from arguably-union-busting PEJ. However, this does come up later on the PEJ tax form when The 74 Media is identified as a nonprofit and as PEJ’s sole grant recipient, with the purpose of the grant identified as “fiscal sponsorship & general support.”
Brown’s The Seventy Four bio includes info about her founding PEJ. But for some reason, the Seventy Four fails to mention its PEJ funding connection at all– and it should.
Furthermore, PEJ’s 2014 tax form indicates that The Seventy Four’s co-founder and CEO, Romy Drucker, worked as a “strategic consultant” for PEJ; she was paid $122,102 for her services.
Drucker’s Seventy Four bio does not mention her PEJ connection.
As previously noted, PEJ paid $2.37 million for “fiscal sponsorship and general support” at some point between 12-01-14 and 11-30-15. According to this application for recognition of exemption, The Seventy Four began January 12, 2015, as Loudspeaker Media.
The organization’s purpose and proposed activities are described as follows:
Loudspeaker Media Inc. (the “Loudspeaker”) seeks to produce and distribute journalism about America’s education system in order to improve education in America. Loudspeaker’s journalism will focus on the challenges and opportunities faced by the nearly 100,000 public schools in our country and the experiences of the millions of American children that attend public schools. Loudspeaker will closely examine major policy issues in K-12 education in our country by producing and distributing local and national stories about education policies and the roles of key stakeholders in America’s education system. Through the production and distribution of journalism focusing on America’s education system, Loudspeaker seeks to raise awareness about the state of education in America and to foster community engagement so that citizens can effect positive changes in America’s education system. A
Loudspeaker will pursue its exempt purposes through the production and distribution of news and opinion content through its website located at http://www.loudspeaker.org (“Website”). The Website will be a platform for all content developed by Loudspeaker’s staff writers and editorial contributors. News and opinion content featured on the Website will focus on local and national issues relating to America’s education system. The Website’s news content will adhere to the highest standards of journalism. The Website’s opinion content will represent different opinions in the field of education.
The Website will include interactive features which allow readers to post comments on articles and submit “letters to the editor” in an effort to encourage dialogue about education issues and allow readers to share their personal experiences with America’s schools.
In addition to the Website, Loudspeaker will actively distribute its content through social media technologies, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.
Loudspeaker will periodically host live events (such as forums and panels) for opinion leaders, policymakers, and stakeholders in the field of education to discuss education policies and the effects of education policies on American families.
Loudspeaker will pursue relationships with other media organizations for the development, distribution, and sharing of Loudspeaker’s content and content created by others that relates to Loudspeaker’s exempt purposes.
An informed understanding of America’s education system is essential to improving education in America. Loudspeaker’s activities will further its exempt purposes by providing information that raises citizens’ awareness about America’s education system and empowers communities to engage America’s education system in order to effect positive changes.
Loudspeaker will fund its activities with the financial assistance of private donors, foundation grants, and the public.
The projected funding of Loudspeaker Media was set at $3.8 million from 01-12-15 to 12-31-15; $4.1 million from 01-01-16 to 12-31-16, and a projected $4.5 million from 01-01-17 to 12-31-17.
From the outset, Brown planned on using PEJ to establish Loudspeaker Media:
Campbell Brown, who is the corporation’s President and also a director, is the founder and a director of Partnership for Educational Justice, Inc., non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization (“PEJ”). PEJ will act as the corporation’s “fiscal sponsor” until the corporation’s exempt-status is approved. The “fiscal sponsor” relationship between PEJ and the corporation will be pursuant to a written agreement duly approved by each organization’s board of directors.
Loudspeaker Media, which was incorporated in Delaware on January 12, 2015, became The 74 Media (The Seventy Four) on May 14, 2015.
According to its registration for charitable organizations, Loudspeaker Media applied for tax exempt status on February 11, 2015 (before it was renamed The 74 Media), and began soliciting contributions on March 27, 2015 (again, before it was renamed The 74 Media).
The 74 Media does not yet have its first tax form available. However, based upon its projected $3.8 million in revenue for its first year and its receipt of $2.4 million from PEJ, it seems that for 2015, The Seventy Four’s principal funder was likely Brown’s blatantly anti-union PEJ.
This brings us back to the issue of The Seventy Four’s trying to promote itself as a credible news source.
Such credibility begins with honest and clear acknowledgment of the organization’s history– which includes details of its financial history and relationships to Campbell Brown’s controversial nonprofit, PEJ.
That detailed organizational history should also include candid examination about how the public is supposed to trust The Seventy Four’s reporting given its history, the corporate reform bent of its board of directors, funders like Betsy DeVos, and of its co-founder, Campbell Brown.
It is not enough for Brown to simply recuse herself from writing about DeVos and Moskowitz, and it is not enough for Drucker to try to excuse DeVos funding by saying it will end soon, anyway.
The bottom line: If The Seventy Four wishes to discard the label of “advocacy journalism,” it needs to seriously consider who funds it and who leads it.
It’s a tall order.
However, that detailed history link would be a good start.