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

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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?

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

 

 

Michelle “Buy Yourself An Election” Rhee returns to undermine democracy in Connecticut

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Tomorrow, the voters of Windsor and the rest of the 5th Connecticut House District will be returning to the polls to vote in the run-off primary between Democrats Leo Canty,  and Brandon McGee.

In the first primary, the two democrats tied.  Tomorrow’s re-vote will determine who will represent the Democratic Party in the November election.

Under Connecticut’s public financing system, neither candidate receives more funds, so neither one can get use money to buy themselves any last-minute advantage.

While volunteers can work as hard as they want for their candidate, campaign spending is done.

However, in typical fashion, the corporate education reformers won’t let the Spirit of the Law serve as a barrier to their desire to win at all cost.

Late last week, the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance, Michelle Rhee’s front group in Connecticut, dumped $32,000 into the race in support of Brandon McGee.

Just a month ago, Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush were hosting a screening of the new anti-teacher, anti-union movie, “Won’t Back Down.”

So why would Rhee, a leading force in the effort to privatize America’s education system show  up in Connecticut to back a candidate that she doesn’t even know?

The answer is that Rhee and her money have appeared in Connecticut, not so much to support McGee but to defeat Leo Canty, a longtime Democratic and progressive leader.  Why Leo?  Because Leo Canty happens to work for the American Federation of Teachers.

And that is reason enough to get the “education reformers” to try to buy an election.

Oh, and whose money is behind this outrageous effort?  Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Steve Perry, the CEO of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

Under Connecticut law, the two candidates faced restrictions on what they could raise and spend in the primary, but a loophole in the law allows outsiders and “independent” groups to spend whatever they want.

StudentsFirst didn’t even have the decency to honestly explain why they were actually putting in the money.  Instead, a spokesperson for the Great New England Public Schools Alliance issued a statement saying, “the organization supports McGee because he is a, “pro-education, pro-student candidate who will continue to bring meaningful reform to Connecticut.”

But no amount of lying can cover up the truth.

Michele Rhee and those who are looking to make millions by allowing certain charter schools and other corporations to re-direct million in taxpayer dollars are here to make sure that a candidate who supports teachers and Connecticut’s public schools doesn’t get elected.

Rhee’s actions are more than disgusting.

They are unethical, immoral and offensive to our nation’s democratic principles.

If you know anyone who lives in Windsor or in the rest of the 5th House District, remind them that tomorrow is primary day and make sure they know what is really at stake in tomorrow’s vote.

“Education Reformers” spend over $2.6 million lobbying for Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill

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With the end of the 2012 Legislative Session, came the final lobbying reports from the corporate-funded “Education Reform” groups.  From January through May 2012, Michelle Rhee, Patrick Riccards and the various corporate executives pushing Malloy’s education plan spent over $2.6 million in Connecticut.

Overall, the corporate reformers outspent those supporting public education by at least two to one.

Although Connecticut law requires organizations to reveal how much money they spent on lobbying, they do not have to identify where the funds came from.  The reports indicate that approximately $1 million or more came from out-of-state “reform” groups.

It was a big year for Michelle Rhee and the other anti-teacher, anti-union “education reform” advocates across the country.  After spending hundreds of millions on lobbying, these groups were able to persuade tea-bag and conservative Republican governors and legislatures to repeal collective bargaining for teachers, limited bargaining rights for others, dramatically expanded funding for charter schools or otherwise undermine what most would describe as the American public education system.

The changes proposed by Governor Malloy, and eventually adopted by the Connecticut Legislature, were the most far-reaching of any state with a Democratic governor and legislature.

Michelle Rhee, whose organization StudentsFirst, spent the most money of any group lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s legislation claims victory in Connecticut.  Rhee has repeatedly claimed that the problem facing American education is not a lack of money, despite the fact that in Connecticut, at least, the lack of sufficient resources means urban students face larger class sizes, fewer options and middle-income and working families end up paying unfairly high local property taxes.

The new lobbying reports reveal that at least two “education reform” organizations that were engaged in lobbying activities failed to file any reports this year, raising the question as to whether the Office of State Ethics has begun an investigation in ethics violations by any of the “reformers” or “reform groups.”

 

Lobbying Expenses January – April 2012

Notes

GNEPSA(aka StudentsFirst)

$810,077

Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization in “disguise”

ConnCAN

$193,464

Patrick Riccards

ConnAD

$499,909

Patrick Riccards

Connecticut Council for Education Reform

60,906

Rae Ann “poverty is not an issue” Knopf

Students for Education Reform

$25,159

Buses and food for the 60 student rally at the State Capitol

Connecticut Association of Board of Education (CABE)

$7,286

Robert Rader

CT Association of Public School Superintendents

$28,250

Joseph Cirasuolo

Achievement First

$94,100

Charter School Management Company formed by Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s and others

Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA)

$877,909*

*$487,224 was for education reform television ads.  A major chunk of the remainder was to lobby other business issues.

CT Association of Schools

$10,000

CT Parents Union

$0

Despite sponsoring the rally that Michelle Rhee attended, CT Parents Union claimed no expenditures for lobbying

Excel Bridgeport

DID NOT REGISTER

Excel Bridgeport engaged in a variety of efforts to promote the state takeover of Bridgeport and persuade others to communicate with legislators about Malloy’s education reform” bill but they did not register to lobby.

Teach for America – CT Chapter

DID NOT REGISTER

Teach for America -CT Chapter – Engaged in a variety of efforts to communicate with  State Department of Education Officials but did not register

Meanwhile, it turns out that we have Mayor Bloomberg to thank….

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Yup,

Despite having his own full agenda of issues, it turns out that we have Mayor Bloomberg to thank for the obnoxious television advertising blitz that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst ran here in Connecticut leading up to the vote on Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.

As you may have seen, Reuters is reporting that:

“Rhee has set up StudentsFirst as a network of interlocking lobbying groups, advocacy organizations and political action committees. By law, she does not have to disclose her donors, and she refuses to discuss her fundraising.  

But an adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirms that he provided financial backing for Rhee’s recent push into Connecticut politics.”

See the story here:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-education-rheebre84e1oa-20120515,0,7834441.story

Are StudentsFirst and other “Education Reform” groups under investigation for Ethics Violations?

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It’s a very valid question.

It certainly appeared that StudentsFirst, Excel Brideport, Teach for America – Connecticut Chapter and other groups pushing Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill engaged in lobbying activities that were not properly reported to the Office of State Ethics.  If they did engage in those activities they could face significant penalties and fines for breaking Connecticut law.

The problem with answering the question is that there is a state law the exempts ethics complaints from Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law and sets up a different standard that give extensive protection to any group or person who is being charged with an ethics violation.

Innocent until proven guilty is the hallmark of our system of justice, but at least in criminal law, the public has a right to know whether someone has or has not been arrested.

But a very different standard exists when it comes to protecting public officials or those who may have violated the state’s ethics code.

Although these provisions were intended to protect people from being hit with frivolous ethics complaints, the present law actually prevents the public from getting information that it has a right to know.

However, a complaint alleging a violation of the Code of Ethics must remain confidential until one of the following criteria is met: (1) after a judge trial referee makes a finding of probable cause, (2) upon the request of the respondent or (3) upon an agreed resolution of the matter by consent order.

This means that while the Office of State Ethics is investigating a complaint, no one, including the person who filed the complainant, the respondent, any witnesses or the Board Members and staff of the Office of State Ethics may disclose the existence of a complaint.

And there is even a $10,000 penalty should the person filling the complaint reveals that he or she has taken that action.

Talk about a disincentive to step forward and file a complaint!

So the quick answer is that we don’t know if investigations are or are not presently taking place.

If I, for example, filed an ethics complaint against some or all of these “education reform” organizations, I could not inform my readers of that fact.

Furthermore, if someone else out there filed a complaint, they could not legally tell me that a complaint was pending.

And finally, if the Office of State Ethics began their own investigation, which is permitted under state law, then they could not inform anyone (except for the organization being investigated) that such an activity was taking place.

Now that I think about it, perhaps this is exactly the situation in which that great phrase comes into play — “Let me just say that I can neither confirm nor deny that the Office of State Ethics is investigating StudentsFirst or any other “education reform” group at this time.”

In fact, even if I could confirm such information, the law would prohibit me from doing so.

So there, for those of you who have been asking, you’ve got your answer.

Remember, he or she who writes the rules…. ah…. writes the rules.

Malloy Not Alone: Last Minute Corporate Contributions from StudentsFirst to Missouri Democratic Legislators pays off

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A few readers have complained that it’s been unfair to single out Governor Malloy for his support of “education reform.”  Despite the fact that he proposed the most anti-teacher, anti-union proposal of any Democratic governor in the nation, these apologists claim that there are lots of Democrats supporting Michelle Rhee and the corporate reformers.

Well, these Malloy defenders will be happy to hear that a few days ago a small group of Democratic state legislators joined their Republican colleagues in Missouri to pass a ‘reform” package there that includes outlawing the use of seniority when it comes to teacher contracts.

The bill passed by a vote of 83-78 (one vote more than constitutionally required in Missouri).

Democratic Minority Leader Mike Talboy, one of a group of legislators who had recently received campaign contributions directly from StudentsFirst switched sides providing the “reformers” with the votes necessary to pass the bill.  Not only are corporate contributions allowed in Missouri, but corporations can give unlimited amounts to political campaigns and can do so during the legislative session.

According to published reports from Missouri, “the bill initially did not have the required constitutional majority of 82 votes, but the voting board was held open for nearly fifteen minutes while House Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones and other caucus leaders walked the floor, pressuring representatives to change their votes. Eventually, enough votes were changed to pass the bill by a vote of 83-76, one more than the required majority and the board was closed.”  Representative Jones was another one of the legislators to recently receive a campaign contribution from StudentsFirst.

Originally the bill also required that 50 percent of a teacher’s annual evaluation must reflect the standardized test scores of their students.  In Missouri, the mandated link between evaluations and standardized test score was removed prior to the final passage of the legislation, whereas in Connecticut, Malloy’s plan now provides for a 10 district pilot program linking evaluations and test scores before the concept is spread statewide.

Considering test scores are linked to many factors beyond a teacher’s control, such as poverty and language barriers, neither the Malloy Administration nor the Republicans in Missouri have been able to articulate how linking evaluations and test scores will work.

For example, is a 5 percent improvement in a low-income district the same as a 1 percent change in a high income district?

Alternatively, if a teacher with 20 students has four special needs students and four students who aren’t proficient in the English language, is a 2 percent improvement in test scores the same as a 2 percent improvement for a teacher with 22 students of which five have special education needs and two face language barriers?

As we know from their work here in Connecticut, the most effective way reformers improve test scores is by removing the lowest performing students from taking the test at all.

When Windham’s Special Master, Steven Adamowski, was superintendent of schools in Hartford, he won renown for increasing test scores by 4 to 5 percent.  It was only later that researchers discovered that the success in raising test scores was statistically due to the fact he removed 10 percent of Hartford’s lowest performing students from the pool of students who even took the Connecticut Master Tests.  You have to give them an A for ingenuity.

Surprisingly, despite a major report on the maneuver published this year by Connecticut Voices for Children, Governor Malloy overlooked the facts when his “education reform” road show stopped in Windham.  There, Malloy publicly applauded Adamowski’s track record in getting Hartford test scores up.

Meanwhile, none of these issues seem to bother the corporate “reforms” who continue to “invest” in the blossoming education reform industry.

Here in Connecticut “education reformers” spent over a million dollars in the last three months to support Malloy’s “education reform.”  It should come as no surprise that in states like Missouri, where corporations can donate directly to legislators, groups such as StudentsFirst successfully used that strategy, handing out checks in the days immediately leading up to the vote on the reforms they were supporting.

Oh, it’s good to be Michelle Rhee;

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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 CapitolMichelle 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.

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/

You just can’t make this stuff up…

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Earlier today, StudentsFirst – yes, that’s right — Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst… (The organization that IS NOT LOBBYING in Connecticut) issued a press release attacking the opponents of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.

In their press release, Tim Melton, the Vice President of Legislative Affairs for StudentsFirst argues that “since the facts aren’t on their side, they are resorting to negative and false political attacks.”

Apparently he believes that the work that the Connecticut Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers and the rest of us pro-public education people are engaged in, as we tell the truth about Malloy’s bill, is “resorting” to attacks.

Now, just to be clear, Tim Melton IS NOT the same StudentsFirst Vice President who was listed on the official State of Connecticut lobbyist filing forms as the “Principal Officer or Director” of GNEPSA (which IS the group that is lobbying in Connecticut).

That StudentsFirst Vice President was Woodhouse Enoch.

This StudentsFirst Vice President is Tim Melton.

So we now have StudentsFirst’s CEO, the “other” Vice President, the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Legal Counsel all lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s bill – but the “other” StudentsFirst Vice President, Tim Melton, is still working for StudentsFirst.

No wait, according to GNEPSA’s April 11th ethics filing that “back-dated” their team of lobbyists, Tim Melton IS listed as a lobbyist for GNEPSA starting back on February 22nd.

Which must mean that it wasn’t StudentsFirst’s Vice President Tim Melton who put out today’s press release but the “other” other StudentsFirst Vice President Tim Melton because the first “other” StudentsFirst Vice President is already a registered lobbyist for GNEPSA.

And Malloy wonders why some of us are a bit concerned with the notion of handing over our public education system to these people.

All joking aside, it is hardly a laughing matter.

The people of Connecticut are being had by a bunch of corporate hotshots who make the Keystone Cops look efficient and capable.

We have a Commissioner of Education (who helped set up and served as a director for Achievement First, the charter school management company) pushing a bill in which the single biggest financial beneficiary of taxpayer funds is – Achievement First.

We have a Democratic Governor proclaiming, with pride, that he will veto any “education reform” bill that doesn’t give that same Commissioner the ability to take over 25 schools, fire the staff, ban collective bargaining and turn the schools over to some group of unnamed third-party entities who will then be exempt from Connecticut’s laws on bidding and the use of consultants.

And we’ve still got the issue of why the Governor put language in the bill that provides former Hartford Superintendent of Schools (now Malloy’s “Special Master” in Windham) extra pension credits because he didn’t want to follow the same Connecticut law that 45,000 teachers and 9,000 school administrators have to follow.

I said it before and I’ll say it again.

If this bill passes there will be people going to prison before Malloy’s term is over.

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