Imagine. Knowing you are always right…
And regardless of whether you are right or wrong, having the resources to influence public policy at any time and in any place around the nation.
GNEPSA – the group formerly known as StudentsFirst (well, the group StudentsFirst created to be their more politically acceptable front in Connecticut), dropped another $283,889 on behalf of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill in the last month of the legislative session. That brings her reported total Connecticut lobbying expenditures over the past three months to just about $640,000 and counting.
Michelle Rhee, the woman Malloy refused to stand with at an “education” rally was, none the less, kind enough to pay for a half a million dollars in radio and television advertising proclaiming Malloy and his plan the savior when it came to putting Connecticut’s public education system on track. Trashing teachers and their unions throughout the ad, Rhee’s operatives were kind enough to mention Malloy’s name no less than 8 times during the 30 and 60 second spots.
And on May 9th, as Governor Malloy crowed about his “victory” over the forces dedicated to the “status quo,” the most anti-teacher, anti-union force in the “Education Reform” industry packed up and headed on to the next battle ground.
Readers will recall the arrival of StudentsFirst and GNEPSA earlier this Session.
Initially StudentsFirst set up an office in Hartford and hired DePino Associates to lobby for them at the Capitol. Michelle Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, came to Hartford on March 14th to speak at a Capitol rally, lobby officials and conduct media interviews.
But what stuck out was how the paperwork they filed with the Office of State Ethics didn’t reflect reality. Actually, now it turns out that in February, StudentsFirst DID register but almost immediately withdrew their registration and, instead, a group called GNEPSA registered but listed StudentsFirst employees as their organization’s representatives.
By February 17, 2012, Angelia Dickens (StudentsFirst’s General Counsel) filed that second set of paperwork. One of StudentsFirst’s Vice Presidents was listed as a “Principal Officer or Director” of GNEPSA and StudentsFirst’s Chief Operating Officer was listed as the person responsible for overseeing the group’s lobbying activities in the state.
Nearly 60 days later, on April 11th, Jeri Powell, another attorney with StudentsFirst filed amended paperwork, again under the name of GNEPSA, for 7 employees of StudentsFirst to lobby in Connecticut (including Michelle Rhee who had already been lobbying in the state a month earlier). The report also back-dated the names of seven StudentsFirst employees who were now listed as having been lobbying since about February 22, 2012.
On top of all that (two days earlier, on April 9th), Angelia Dickens, the StudentsFirst General Counsel who filed the original paperwork in February, filed GNEPSA’s mandatory quarterly lobbying report showing that GNEPSA had spent $1,684.45 in February and another $4,469.48 in March to lobby the Legislature, along with $326,120 for television ads, $18,225 for fundraising activities and $8,362.22 on other expenses.
Oh, and last but not least, on April 9th, the same day GNEPSA filed its quarterly report, StudentsFirst also purchased GNEPSA.org through GODaddy.com. The required paperwork revealing that the Director of Technology at StudentsFirst was the individual purchasing the website name.
Why go through these gyrations?
Because someone, probably based here, was smart enough to appreciate that in a Democratic state like Connecticut it was far better to end the radio and television ads with the words paid for by GNEPSA rather than paid for by StudentsFirst, an organizations that has received its funding from some of the biggest anti-Democratic corporate leaders including Rubert Murdoch.
It was at that point that Brian Lockhart, the reporter for the Stamford Advocate and Hearst newspapers, started digging into the story and finally managed to get a response about all these developments from StudentsFirst.
The StudentsFirst spokesperson wrote;
“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.”
I guess you have to give them credit for their honesty. Their decision to break Connecticut’s ethics laws was because “it’s not uncommon for advocacy groups to use different names in carrying out different functions.”
I’m actually not sure if it is or isn’t common, but in Connecticut it is illegal.
And as pointed out in an earlier post, the StudentsFirst spokesman also admitted that they have been engaged in lobbying here in Connecticut for over a year, despite the fact that they only registered to lobby in February (if what they did even counts as registering.)
Now, one would assume the Office of State Ethics is presently engaged in an investigation into what appear multiple violations of Connecticut law by StudentsFirst, GNEPSA and Michelle Rhee.
If such an investigation is taking place, it will be interesting to see how and when it is resolved. Those of you who keep a close eye on Connecticut state government will remember that as a result of Governor Malloy’s state re-organization plan last year, the Office of State Ethics, which was originally created to be an independent watchdog agency, has now been folded into the new Office of Governmental Accountability where it reports to a Chief Operating Officer appointed by Malloy.
That said it’s not like Michelle Rhee doesn’t have the money to pay a few bucks for violating Connecticut Ethics Laws. At worst, the penalties are only $10,000 per violation, pocket change for the likes of Rhee and her accomplices.