CSI: We Got A Match

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Turns out GNEPSA stands for the Great New England Public Schools Alliance.

Or, if you squint your eyes really tight, you might also see the words StudentsFirst.

Brian Lockhart, of the Stamford Advocate, Hearst Newspaper wrote a story entitled “StudentsFirst … I mean GNEPSA … sends out slick mailer” (click the title to read).

Lockhart is the first reporter to examine the intrigue behind the GNEPSA/StudentsFirst issue.

Linking to a Wait, What? blog post about GNEPSA, Lockhart, on his blog entitled Political Capitol, shines a bright light on the StudentsFirst connection writing “what’s interesting is while GNEPSA is a new name in what some have called the “education reform alphabet soup,” it’s not.  As others have also pointed out, GNEPSA’s filing with the Office of State Ethics lists seven in-house lobbyists on GNEPSA’s payroll with email addresses linking them to another group –California-based StudentsFirst. And one of those lobbyists is StudentsFirst’s founder, Michelle Rhee.”

Lockhart adds “I’m just wondering why StudentsFirst decided to create a new group – GNEPSA.  Are there legal and/or organizational reasons?  Or is there some concern the StudentsFirst brand has been a bit tainted in Connecticut?  And isn’t this all a bit too confusing?  And did they actually mean “Greater” – not “Great” – New England in their name?

It turns out that after calling around; Lockhart then received an unbelievably incredible response from StudentsFirst who issued a statement saying;

“You got us. When we listed the CEO of StudentsFirst on GNEPSA’s public disclosure forms, designed GNEPSA’s logo to be derivative of the StudentsFirst logo and had the GNEPSA website take you to the StudentsFirst website* where you saw a StudentsFirst TV ad, we were sure no one would know GNEPSA and StudentsFirst were connected. All joking aside, it’s not uncommon for advocacy groups to use different names when carrying out different functions. Our 13,000-plus Connecticut members have been working in the state for over a year organizing at the grass roots. And with this important legislation being debated now we are looking at a number of different vehicles to carry their voice to the legislature. You’ll be hearing more about GNEPSA and our other StudentsFirst effort in the coming days.”

-          Nancy Zuckerbrod, StudentsFirst spokesperson

Lockhart concludes “* There’s no mention of a GNEPSA website on the mailer and it’s hard to find on the Internet unless you specifically perform a Google search for GNEPSA.org. And then you are redirected to StudentsFirst. Phew!  I really need a drink).”

What Brian Lockhart has now dug up is what appears to be yet another set of violations of Connecticut’s Ethics Laws.

The lack of honesty and transparency in StudentsFirst’s ethics filing could carry a $10,000 per violation fine.  After reviewing their filing reports the number of potential violations was significant.

Now, the flippant response by the StudentsFirst spokesperson, raises yet a different set of issues.

StudentsFirst now claim that “All joking aside, it’s not uncommon for advocacy groups to use different names when carrying out different functions. Our 13,000-plus Connecticut members have been working in the state for over a year organizing at the grass roots. And with this important legislation being debated now we are looking at a number of different vehicles to carry their voice to the legislature”

First, according to their sworn ethics filings, StudentsFirst or GNEPSA or whoever they claim to be did not begin lobbying in Connecticut until February 2012.   If in fact they have been working in Connecticut for over a year they have been engaged in lobbying without registering, as required by the state ethic’s law.  Someone who did that last year was fined $10,000 by t he Ethics Commission.

Secondly, if there have been illegal subsidies taking place with one organization subsidizing another they have yet another set of problems.

By the way, there is a process for an organization to be doing business under different names (called DBA doing business as) but StudentsFirst has filed none of the documents necessary to allow them to function that way in Connecticut.

The status of any Office of State Ethics complaints or investigations will be covered in a separate blog later, but don’t forget there is also the potential illegal activities associated with the role the “Education Reformers’ played in the state’s failed attempt to take over the Bridgeport School System.  An organization called Excel Bridgeport and two individuals, Meghan Lowney and Nate Snow (who also serves as the Director of Teach For America’s Connecticut chapter engaged in a series of communications aimed at getting the state to take over the Bridgeport Schools but never registered to lobby for those activities.

For that issue check out wait, what’s posts http://jonathanpelto.com/2012/03/26/the-bridgeport-take-over-another-example-of-justice-for-some-rather-than-justice-for-all/