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NPE Dark Money Report: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools

September 11, 2018

On September 10, 2018, the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a valuable report years in the making, Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.

The full report is 103 pages long and includes 9 case studies that are accompanied by 10 interactive maps (two for Louisiana):

I contributed to the initial research for the case studies (2016), and Darcie Cimarusti (aka Mother Crusader), who contributed mightily to bring this work together as an entire report, created those marvelous interactive maps. (See page 3 of the full report for a complete list of acknowledgments, written by NPE Executive Director, Carol Burris.)

I realize that I am writing this as one promoting (in part) my own work, but I must say, upon viewing the final product (which I did not see until it was released to the public), this report is a valuable resource for those interested in understanding how the ueber-wealthy purchase elections. The case studies provide critical glimpses into the election-purchasing process and are useful not only for understanding the history of moneyed elections in specific locales but also for studying the role of big (often out-of-state) money in elections. To this end, Cimarusti et al (via the NPE report) offers the following commentary (page 100):

So how did we follow money in this report, and how can you do it, too?

As local and state newspapers close, consolidate and lay off reporters and investigative journalists, the work of “following the money” is often left to bloggers and citizen journalists. The Network for Public Education Action hopes that this report will inspire everyday citizens like you to expose these practices in local and state races, and to inform the public when democratic elections are being hijacked by the billionaire club.

Each state has an agency tasked with implementing and monitoring the state’s campaign finance laws and each state mandates disclosure and reporting of campaign contributions. This means that an IEC has to disclose its spending, and the state has to report that spending. The Campaign Finance Institute maintains a list of state websites where you can view the disclosure reports that are submitted to the state. It is also helpful to look at the 990 tax statements of any not-for-profit that contributes to a PAC or IEC.

But how do you know what to look for?

It can be tricky because each state’s contributions limits, reporting requirements and website are set-up differently. The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled resources with state by state breakdowns of state limits on contributions to candidates, and state’s independent expenditure reporting. A quick study of the contribution limits and reporting requirements in a given state will give you a solid idea of where to look for the money.

For example, in Rhode Island, contributions from individual donors and PACs to a candidate are restricted to $1,000 per year, and corporations and unions are prohibited from contributing directly to candidates. Therefore, if billionaire reformers want to use their fortunes to influence a Rhode Island election, they’re unlikely to do it through individual contributions. To have an impact they have to contribute to an IEC, 527 or a 501(c) PAC, which in turn can make independent expenditures to support or oppose the candidate(s) of their choosing.

Because Rhode Island has strict reporting laws, any independent expenditure over $1,000 must be reported within 7 days. Expenditures over $1,000 made within 30 days of the election must be reported within 24 hours. When you know a state’s reporting requirements, it makes it easier to know what to look for and when to look for it.

Navigating a state’s disclosure website just takes patience and trial and error. Each state’s user interface is different -some are easy to navigate, while others are frustrating. They are all manageable, however, and the information is there.

Billionaires must not go unchecked when they use their wealth and power to hijack state and local elections. They must be exposed when they force their agenda on communities and school districts. When corporate reform spending is uncovered before an election, it can have a tremendous impact on the outcome. That is where you come in. Take the time to learn how to follow the money and expose corporate reform spending in an upcoming election.

If your state or local paper isn’t reporting it, or is underreporting it, write about it yourself. Blog, write a letter to the editor, or link up with a grassroots public education advocacy organization in your area.

For those wishing for more insight on following the money behind elections, I can offer another resource.  Along with New York professor, researcher, and journalist, Andrea Gabor, Darcie Cimarusti and I will be participating in the following presentation at NPE’s 5th Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, October 20 – 21, 2018:

Where Did All of This Money Come From?? Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail

In this session, presenters will discuss the ways in which they use publicly available sites, including those of secretaries of state (campaign funding) and nonprofit tax form search engines, to discover individuals and organizations seeking to systematically spread ed reform privatization to cities and states across the nation. Audience members will be afforded opportunity to engage in Q&A with speakers and with each other. The intended audience includes individuals seeking practical information on how to discover exactly who is funding local/state elections, ballot initiatives, and pseudo-grassroots education groups.


Come and learn how to expose the billionaires’ election purchasing.

The more attention that is brought to this issue, the better.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I hope this report gets to CBS This Morning and USA Today. They are doing a series on education for nine months. I looked at the report. It is really a beautifully crafted and compelling report. I was thrilled to see LilSIs graphics with visual tracking of flows of money and interlocking relationships. I need to take more time with the report but recommend it highly. I hope the PR for this effort is as well-planned and in time for the election cycle. No need to apologize for bringing this effort to the attention of your readers. See you in Indianapolis…I hope.

  2. Lewis Powell’s dream come true.

  3. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: The Important NPE Report on Dark Money and How You Can Learn to Follow the Money | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Who is Behind the Leaders in Education PAC? | deutsch29

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