ALBANY—Supporters and opponents of education reform, primarily charter school expansion, spent more than $30 million combined attempting to influence New York State politics in 2014, a Capital analysis of lobbyist reports and campaign finance data found.
Charter school groups and their supporters spent $16 million on lobbying, campaign contributions to state-level candidates and parties and independent expenditure campaigns last year. Charter schools spent nearly $700,000 on lobbying. Education unions and labor-funded advocates spent $11.77 million, according to the analysis.
In defending their spending and high-profile backers, education reform leaders have often portrayed teachers’ unions as deep-pocketed behemoths representing special interests. But the spending reality is that in 2014, the pro-charter and reform groups outspent unions by a considerable margin.
Each side was led by a group that accounted for more than half of its cause’s spending. While final lobbying totals for 2014 are not yet available, it is likely Families for Excellent Schools, which spent $9.7 million, and the New York State United Teachers, which spent $8.9 million, will finish as the year’s two highest-spending interest groups.
F.E.S., which has helped organize several massive pro-charter rallies over the past year, spent all its money on lobbying efforts, the Capital analysis found.
The second highest spending pro-charter group was StudentsFirstNY, which spent $272,279 lobbying and organized New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, an independent expenditure committee that spent $4.2 million supporting a Republican takeover of the New York State Senate. StudentsFirstNY has led the push to support Cuomo’s education agenda which, if implemented, would be disastrous for unions and beneficial to charters.
NYSUT spent $3.2 million on lobbying, $4.55 million helping Democratic state legislative candidates through an independent expenditure committee and $200,000 in support of a referendum for a $2 billion bond to boost technology in schools. The union also gave $936,042 in direct contributions, including $202,300 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and its housekeeping account, $101,883 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee, $95,000 to the Working Families Party and $50,000 to Senator Liz Krueger’s leadership committee.
$16 million to $11.77 million - yet the charter groups like to portray themselves as the underdogs, the "grassroots" operations going up against the "powerful" teachers unions:
"What's striking in these numbers is that a few dozen Wall Street financiers and billionaire hedge fund managers are able to far outspend more than 600,000 educators who believe in the promise of public education and voluntarily give a few bucks out of each paycheck to ensure they have a voice,” said Carl Korn, NYSUT’s spokesman.
Again I ask, who's the special interest here?
And who's the criminal?
Sheldon Silver was indicted yesterday on three criminals counts for making $4 million dollars over 15 years in bribery and kickback schemes.
Yet just last year alone, both sides of the education reform debate threw around millions in campaign donations, with some of the individuals behind education reform groups giving even more money on their own.
And just why are they giving all this money?
Supporters of education-focused groups also donated money to individual political candidates and parties. While it’s difficult to know whether those contributions were motivated by the donors’ positions on education policy, it’s possible the donors used fundraisers as opportunities to share with candidates their views on education. But their spending is worth noting, given their financial commitment to influencing education policy.
Silver's facing 60 years in prison and forfeiture of his Grand Street apartment, his Catskills summer home, his pension and his bank accounts in his criminal case.
The politicians on the other end of all the education reform largesse - most of it coming from just a few individuals with a lot of money to burn - are facing more campaign donations, free food and free booze and all they have to do in return is, you know, just listen to what education reformers want done at the state level.
Take Ruben Diaz, for example, who has carried water for the pro-charter, anti-public school agenda of Families for Excellent Schools.
This week he blasted teachers, said the NYCDOE dumps the "worst teachers" into his district, and called on the Legislature to pass Governor Cuomo's education reform agenda that looks to fire thousands of teachers, close hundreds of schools and turn whole districts over to privatization.
Back in December, Diaz hosted a Christmas party that was paid for on the education reform dime:
CHARTER GROUP TO SPONSOR DIAZ XMAS PARTY—Capital’s Eliza Shapiro: Families for Excellent Schools is co-sponsoring State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.'s Christmas party, according to an invite sent Friday by Diaz's office. The party, which will take place Dec. 19 at a steakhouse in the Bronx, is also sponsored by the food delivery company Fresh Direct. A spokesman for F.E.S. declined to say how much the group is paying to co-sponsor the event. Diaz, a Bronx Democrat, has been a longtime supporter of charter schools. In a brief interview on Friday, Diaz initially said of F.E.S., "I don't even know who they are," but then said he had worked with "every single group" in support of charter schools, including F.E.S. No children are allowed at the party. F.E.S. spent nearly $9 million in the first ten months of 2014. http://bit.ly/1BEuNqt
Apparently this isn't bribery, but the kickback scheme Shelly Silver engaged in is.
Funny how that goes.
These "grassroots" education groups, funded with millions of dollars of hedge fund and banker money from a few individuals, are buying politicians to push their agenda, yet it's the "powerful" teachers unions and individual teachers who are the "special interests" and Sheldon Silver who's the criminal.