Whose money paid for the “Education Reformer’s” effort to influence the outcome of Connecticut 5th Legislative District?

Last week, the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance engaged in an unprecedented effort to influence the outcome of an election in Connecticut.  GNEPSA, Michelle Rhee’s front group used a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance law to dumps tens of thousands of dollars in support of Democrat Brandon McGee and against Democrat Leo Canty.

In the course of six days, Rhee’s group spent more than either candidate had spent in the months of campaigning that had taken place before a re-vote was needed to determine the winner.

Because of the way Connecticut law is set up, Rhee’s organization did not have to disclose any detailed information about where she got her money for this inappropriate intervention in Connecticut Democratic politics.

The only facts that had to be revealed were the names of the top five organizations or individuals who donated to the GNEPSA campaign.  Those names were Michele Rhee’s national group, Students First, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an investment banker named Nick Beim and Steve Perry, the principal of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

The fact that list includes ConnAD, which is the sister organization to the Connecticut Association for Achievement Now, Inc., (ConnCAN), is by far the most stunning piece of information of all.

Patrick Riccards is the CEO of both ConnCAN and ConnAD, and both organizations are directly tied to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that was formed by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Dacia Toll, who now serves as Achievement First’s CEO.

Pryor and Toll formed Achievement First with the help of a small group of wealthy Fairfield County businessmen.  Achievement First’s incorporation papers were signed by Greenwich businessman William Berkley (who remains the Chairman of its Board of Directors) and Stamford’s Jonathan Sackler.  Achievement First’s board also included Greenwich businessman Alexander Troy, and soon after, they were joined by corporate CEO Andy Boas.

A year later, in September 2004, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) was formed.  Leading the ConnCAN Board of Directors was a number of Achievement First’s directors including Jonathan Sackler, Alexander Troy and Andrew Boas

And three months after that, Jonathan Sackler and Alexander Troy set up ConnCAN’s sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), which immediately became the lobbying arm of ConnCAN.

Over the next seven years, ConnAD paid one of Hartford’s most prominent lobbying firms over $725,000 to lobby in support of charter school issues.  The payments were as follows:

2005    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2006    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2007    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2008    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2009    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2010    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2011    Gaffney Bennett         $95,000

And then this year, ConnCAN paid more than $800,000 to lobby on behalf of the “education reform” bill sponsored by Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Earlier this year when I took on ConnCAN’s tactics here at Wait, What?, Patrick Riccards responded on the ConnCAN blog by saying,

“It’s always disappointing when we have to take time out of our work on commonsense, student-centered education reform in Connecticut to address misinformation about our organization. But this morning, Jonathan Pelto came out with an ad hominem attack about us on his blog called “Can ConnCAN Con Conn” that claims to have uncovered some sort of hidden agenda.”

Riccards went on to say, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, our 990 FORM is available to the public. Our campaigns and donors are documented every year in our ANNUAL REPORT.”

What Riccards conveniently sidestepped was that they were moving the lobbying money through ConnAD and not ConnCAN and that ConnAD was set up in such a way that it did not have to file any documentation about where they got their money.  No 990 Forms and no annual reports.

Today, ConnAD has spent over $1.5 million and the people of Connecticut have no idea where that money is comes from?

The only thing we can guess is that it is coming from the Fairfield Country businessmen who formed the group and continue to help direct both Achievement First and its related public relations organizations.

However, last, but certainly not least, a new clue has arisen.

While ConnAD was originally formed by corporate executives Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy, a third partner was quietly added to the incorporation papers, at some point during the last few years.

That third partner is Robert Furek, the former President and CEO of the Heublien Corporation.

While Furek lives on Marco Island in Florida, his is a name that may be familiar to a number of people in Connecticut.

Back in 1997, when Governor John Rowland and the Connecticut legislature moved to take over the Hartford School System, Rowland appointed Furek to head the Hartford schools system’s new Board of Trustees.

When he left the post three years later, the claim was that he had successfully turned around Hartford Schools.  The media reported that, “for the first time in years the district is focused on improving student achievement. In 1999, a permanent superintendent, Anthony Amato, was hired. He brought a disciplined new curriculum for elementary school students–and striking progress on standardized tests.”

Media reports went on to say, “Schools are cleaner. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, incompetent school principals are being replaced. Textbooks are plentiful. Test scores are up under a renewed emphasis on reading, writing and math.”

Leaving aside the truthfulness as to whether Furek actually managed to turnaround the Hartford school system, Robert Furek may very well be better known for his role in raising campaign money for some of the most right-wing candidates and causes in the United States.

According to Federal Election Committee reports,  in addition to his work with the Connecticut Association for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., (ConnAD), , Robert Furek has been a major fundraiser and donor to the campaigns of George W. Bush for President,  John McCain for President, Romney for President, Paul Ryan for Congress, Rick Santorum’s U.S. senatorial run in 2006 and two extraordinarily controversial political action committees;  Progress for America Voter Fund, a primary vehicle for the Koch Brother’s assault on America and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

So, all this brings us back to the independent expenditure aimed at influencing the outcome of the General Assembly’s 5th District seat.

Putting aside why the “education reformers” felt so strongly about the race, there is an even more pressing question – and that is – who exactly was behind this effort?

It was only a few months ago that ConnCAN’s Patrick Riccards claimed that, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization.”

Yes transparent is the absolute last thing they have been.

Well, now the moment of truth has arrived.

ConnAD has spent $1.5 million lobbying for “education reform” in recent years, the majority being spent in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  And that effort doesn’t even count the money poured into this week’s special Democratic Primary.

“Incredibly transparent” organizations don’t hide the truth from the people of Connecticut.

The question must be answered; who has been funding ConnAD and how much has each person donate?

  • George Peterman

    While Furek can lay claim to getting Hartford’s financial house in order while he served there, the test scores actually went down during his tenure. Since the standardized test scores are what these people are all about, that means he failed.
    ConnCAN Chief Operating Officer Ann Marcucio, came directly from the American Federation of Children, the “education reform” group wiht a legacy of illegal activity. This is the same group that operated in Ohio under the name of “All Children Matter” and was fined 5.2 million dollars for violating election laws in that state. She has a deep and well-documented connection to Scott Jensen, her cohort at the AFC who managed to escape felony misconduct charges as a legislator in Wisconsin (he made a deal that ordered him to pay the costs of the case and forbade him from holding elected office). Jensen was involved in the AFC’s attempts to gerymander in Wisonsin (the Alberta Darling scandal – piles of emails that were released by court order had Jensen and other AFC operatives all over them) is well-documented. They were both national lobbyists for the AFC and worked together on their yearbook of all things (isn’t that cute? It’s available on line). The AFC, clearly right-wing, dumped over $110 grand into the Wisconsin Democratic primaries in order to defete candidates they saw as problematic in their quest to kill the unions and promote charters and vouchers. ConnCAN is doing the same thing that the AFC did in Wisconsin: fund a particular Democratic candidate in order to defete the candidate that you see as the opposition. Small coincidence that Leo Canty is the Second VP of the American Federation of Teachers?
    So when does the investigation begin? When does this corrupt, miserable government actually serve the people that pay for it?

    • R.L.

      It won’t. The government belongs to them, not us. Government of the corporation for the corporation. We are all peasants and pee-ons.

  • It’s almost unfair to discuss the 1993-2000 era in Hartford schools isn’t it? The state took over in 1997. There was the rejecting of the newly hired Hispanic superintendent Duroy by the Greater Hartford African American Alliance claiming racism preferring instead the singularly incompetent African American woman Patricia Daniels? Daniels lasted less than a year on the job before her ineptitude became obvious to all? And this was after the failed Educational Alternatives Inc Schools experiment and privatization attempt of 1993-1996 which was opposed by the unions? There was that great sotry of Lewis Fox Middle Schools ahve boxes of computers stting in storage because no one knew how to use them?
    The fact the school board didn’t kill each other during open meetings was considered a successful milestone and the earmark of a newer, more civilized era of Hartford School reform?

    • Charlie Puffers

      Yes. the state did such a great job. At one point they had the city paying 4 superintendents at the same time: Matthew Borrelli, Patricia Daniel, Benjamin Dixon, and Anthony Amato while still paying off EAI.

      • Apartheid First

        Thank you for reminding us of the bad old days.

      • Wait until Scheff goes back to court in 2013 and the CREC is tasked with creating a truly regional system from the surrounding burbs and the admiistrative lawsuits and union lawsuits start flying.

        • Apartheid First

          That’s Sheff. Right, we can’t expect bigotry to end anytime soon.

  • Apartheid First

    The horrifying thing is that all of this is probably “legal.” Pryor was on Achievement First’s board until the day he took the CT commish job.
    Hot tubs, kitchen re-dos, renovations, it’s hard to believe that such small change got Johnny, Eddie, Ganim, etc., in trouble.

  • Apartheid First

    Read this post from the answer sheet–a superintendent is going to prison for manipulating numbers and for “weeding out” students who would not do well on standardized tests!!! Next to jail–Adamowski? http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/10/05/cheating-scandal-lands-ex-schools-chief-in-prison/
    Also, why aren’t charter schools being arrested for this? They do it all the time.