ConnCAN signs $200,000 contract with major Connecticut lobby firm

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The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN), the charter school advocacy group that was created by the founders of Achievement First, the state’s largest charter school management company, has signed a two-year, $200,000 lobbying contract with Connecticut government relations firm, Gaffney, Bennett and Associates.

In addition, ConnCAN staff will continue to lobby on behalf of Governor Malloy’s education reform initiatives.

Last year, ConnCAN and its sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Advocacy Now, Inc. (ConnAD) spent more than $693,000 lobbying for Malloy’s education bill.  Along with Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and other corporate funded education reform groups, ConnCAN’s lobby levels broke all previous records for legislative lobbying.

In the month of January alone, ConnCAN spent more than $15,000 on its government relations activities.

However, interestingly, the January Client Lobbyist Financial Report that ConnCAN filed with the Office of State Ethics, as required by Chapter 10, Part II of the Connecticut General Statutes, makes absolutely no mention of the public opinion poll that ConnCAN conducted in January and released earlier this week.

The report, which covers the period from January 1 to January 31st, 2013 was filed with the Office of State Ethics on February 11th.

Failure to disclose expenditures for lobbying and expenditures for activities in furtherance of lobbying is a major violation of Connecticut law.

If the poll was shared with legislators or used as part of any communication seeking to persuade others to communicate with legislators then ConnCAN is required to include those expenses on its ethics report.

However, ConnCAN’s January Form ETH-2D failed to provide any information about the recent poll they conducted.

Meanwhile, the lobby firm of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates has been working for ConnCAN or ConnAD since the two organizations were formed about six years ago.

In addition to ConnCAN, Gaffney, Bennett’s clients include, AT&T Wireless, the City of Stamford,  Exxon/Mobil, GE, Hartford Healthcare Corporation, NBC, Pitney Bowes Corp., Procter & Gamble and Quinnipiac University to name a few.

Connecticut’s leading education reform PR flack (spokesman) heads for the border…

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First came Achievement First, the large charter school management company that was co-founded by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

The people who were the financial backers of Achievement First then created ConnCAN and ConnAD, the two lobbying and advocacy groups designed to support the effort to shift more state funds to Achievement First and Connecticut’s other charter schools.

Last year, ConnCAN and ConnAD were the primary cheerleaders for Governor Malloy’s education reform bill.  Along with Michelle Rhee and her national “education reform” group, StudentsFirst, these corporate education reformers broke all Connecticut spending records in their effort to pass Malloy’s legislation.

Now, late today, ConnCAN sent out an email announcing that ConnCAN CEO, Patrick Riccards, and the ConnCAN Board of Directors had suddenly parted ways and that Riccards would be returning to his life as the owner of a public relations company.  (It was only a year ago that Riccards resigned his seat on a board of education in northern Virginia and left his company to come to Connecticut).

As chief apologist for Governor Malloy and Malloy’s education reform proposal, Riccard’s job was apparently to insult Connecticut’s teachers, the teacher unions and any Democratic legislator who dared to support public education.

At one point, when the Democrats on the General Assembly’s education committee removed some of the most anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public education provisions in Malloy’s bill, Riccards wrote a commentary piece for the New York Post that was entitled, “Killing hope in Connecticut.”

Day after day and week after week, Riccards and the other corporate reformers returned to their constant refrain that anyone who raised questions or concerns about Malloy’s ill-conceived education reforms was not only a supporter of the status quo but a supporter of failure and an enemy of our children.

Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth.

In any case, for reasons that have yet to become clear, some type of falling out occurred between the ConnCAN Board and their CEO.

Riccards is out and Jennifer Alexander who has been named Acting CEO.  In an email today, ConnCAN reports that, “Jen joined ConnCAN as a consultant in early 2010 and joined the staff shortly thereafter. She quickly rose to serve as Vice President for Research and Partnerships. In that role, she has managed ConnCAN’s nationally recognized work in education research and policy development, as well as strategic partnership and coalition building.”

News Flash: Michelle Rhee had co-conspirators in the attempt to buy this week’s Democratic Primary.

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Official reports indicate that Connecticut’s primary “education reform” group was part of Rhee’s attempt to influence the outcome of this week’s Democratic Primary

It turns out that when Michelle Rhee dumped tens of thousands into this week’s re-vote to select the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, she wasn’t acting alone.

Initial media reports pointed out that the money being spent by the Greater New England Public School Alliance, Rhee’s front group, in support of Brendan McGee and against Leo Canty came from Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, as well as from, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steve Perry, the head of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

But the media missed the fourth key donor to the Greater New England Public School Alliance’s massive spending effort.  According to those same reports, the fourth major donor was none-other-than ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., the sister organization of ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

Both organizations are directed by Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, and both organizations were created by the very same people who created and have been funding Achievement First, Inc., the Charter School Management company that was actually co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

ConnAD and ConnCAN’s effort to influence public policy is extensive.  Even before Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill was proposed, these two organizations spent more than half a million dollars lobbying on behalf of charter schools.

The two organizations ramped up their lobbying after Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor introduced Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  Although their ethics reports appear to be filled out incorrectly, in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws, it appears that ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., spent nearly $825,000 in their effort to pressure legislators to support Malloy’s bill.

At the same time, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc., appears to have spent another $230,000 lobbying Malloy’s bill, bringing the total expenditures by the two Connecticut based groups to over $1,000,000.  That doesn’t even count the historic lobbying expenditure by Michelle Rhee.

What these latest State Election Enforcement Commission reveal is that Patrick Riccards, ConnAD and ConnCAN have now moved past their efforts to influence policy through their lobbying and have begun to directly campaign for and against individual candidates.

However, due to the way ConnAD was set up, it doesn’t need to disclose where it gets its funding.  This loophole means that Connecticut citizens don’t know who actually paid for last spring’s historic lobbying effort or who is presently behind the effort to impact the outcome of these Democratic primaries.

At this point, the only piece that is known is that Michelle Rhee, with the help of Connecticut education reformers got deeply involved in this week’s Democratic primary.

After an initial primary, two recounts and a judicial order for a re-vote, the voters of Hartford and Windsor choose Brandon McGee over Leo Canty, to be the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, on Tuesday.

While the battle was mostly a local one, Michelle Rhee’s effort to influence the outcome garnered national attention.  As noted, Michelle Rhee’s Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent an unprecedented amount in support of McGee and against Canty.

So why would one of the country’s leading “education reformers,” along with ConnAD and ConnCAN, target a particular candidate in a Democratic primary, when that house seat is just one of 187 house and senate seats in Connecticut?

The reason seems to be due to the fact that Leo Canty serves as a leader in the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The fact that Michelle Rhee would leave the national stage to target a particular candidate in a Connecticut legislative primary is surprising enough.  The revelation that Connecticut’s primary education reform group would actually help fund such a campaign effort, is, quite frankly, unbelievable.

ConnAD and ConnCAN have been closely aligned with Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor.  In fact, Commissioner Pryor has publicly credited ConnCAN for their help in passing Malloy’s bill.

With ConnAD and ConnCAN now funding an independent campaign to defeat an individual Democratic candidate because they belong to a teacher’s union raises some extraordinarily serious questions about who was involved in these decisions and whose money was actually being used.

The initial press reports were that the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent about $32,000 in their independent campaign to influence the outcome of the primary.  However, additional reports were submitted in the final days of the primary indicating that other expenditures were made.  It should be noted though that the reports are so poorly completed that it is difficult to determine exactly how much Rhee’s group spent.

The following amounts were submitted to the State Elections Enforcement Commission:

Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/26/2012 $31,977.51
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/28/2012 $5,606.18
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 10/2/2012 $8,889.43
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance (amended report) 10/2/2012 $1,1226.00