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La. PAC Used to Funnel $3M in Out-of-State Billionaire Cash into 2015 BESE Election Disbands

August 21, 2019

In 2015, six out-of-state billionaires from four families contributed a combined $3M to influence the outcome of Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) election.

shocked-dollar

For the October 24, 2019, primary, out-of-state billionaire spending totaling $2.1M was as follows:

  • John and Laura Arnold (Texas): $625K
  • Michael Bloomberg (New York): $800K
  • Eli Broad (California): $250K
  • Alice Walton (Arkansas): $200K
  • Jim Walton (Arkansas): $200K

In all cases, the funnel used to bring this $2.1M into Louisiana’s October 24, 2015, state board of ed election was Louisiana businessman Lane Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC.

For the October 24, 2015, election, Grigsby used the money to purchase ads in support of corporate ed reform candidates James Garvey, Sandy Holloway, Holly Boffy, and Tony Davis and in opposition traditional ed supporters Mike Kreamer and Lottie Beebe.

The October 2015 BESE election resulted in six ed-reform wins and two runoffs, which were decided in a subsequent, November 2015, election.

Regarding those two BESE seat runoffs, yet another $1M came to Louisiana via Grigsby’s PAC:

Jim Walton donated $250K AND Michael Bloomberg donated $650K toward the November 21, 2015, runoff between BESE candidates Tony Davis and Mary Harris and between Jason Engen and Kathy Edmonston. Grigsby’s PAC used the Walton and Bloomberg cash to purchase ads in support of Davis and Engen and in opposition to Harris and Edmonston.

So, between the October 2015 primary and November 2015 runoff for BESE seats, those six billionaires pumped $3M to shape election outcomes in a state in which none resides, and they were enabled to do so via Lane Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC.

Davis won and Engen lost, which set BESE up for a 7-seat, ed-reform majority. Edmonston was the only elected BESE member on the side of traditional public education. Furthermore, Governor John Bel Edwards appointed three BESE members, who were also on the side of traditional public education. Even thought the BESE majority was pro-ed-reform, Grigsby et al. failed to achieve the eight-seat supermajority needed to award Louisiana state superintendent John White a new contract, thereby making White a month-to-month employee from January 2016 to January 2020.

The next BESE election cometh.

On October 12, 2019, Louisiana will once again elect eight BESE members.

When I checked to see if any out-of-state billionaire money had arrived yet in Grigsby’s Empower Louisiana PAC, I made an interesting discovery:

On August 09, 2019, Grigsby filed to dissolve the Empower Louisiana PAC.

The day before, on August 08, 2019, Grigsby spent Empower Louisiana PAC’s remaining $13K, using approximately $3.3K to “pay some bills” and donating the remaining $9.7K to Truth in Politics, a 501c4 nonprofit created “to shine a bright light on Governor John Bel Edwards’ failed policy decisions.”

The major conduit of Walton, and Bloomberg, and Arnold, and Broad money into Louisiana’s previous BESE election is no longer in operation.

A curious and welcome development, indeed, and one that I will continue to monitor.

magnifying glass money

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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.

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