Sunday, February 19, 2012

Right-Wing Interests' Dominant Presence In WI Redistricting, School Choice Issue

Journalists in Wisconsin have been following the Right's networks and funders and their powerful political impact.

Bill Lueders, a leading Wisconsin investigative reporter, discussed last week the kind of interests that had a hand in the secretive redistricting and map-drawing unearthed in a Federal lawsuit, and that were amplified in subsequent, court-ordered email dumps:

Last July 13, just after the new maps were unveiled, the Legislature held a single hearing on redistricting. Forty-nine people registered and 21 spoke against the bills; one person registered and six spoke in favor, including aides to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. That’s an overall margin of 10 to one.

In other words, the Legislature’s GOP leadership passed redistricting maps that were drafted in secret and received almost no public support, financial or otherwise, from any quarter. In this case, it seems, the legislators were motivated by a deeper core principle: self-interest.
And had there not been the lawsuit, and a panel of federal judges who forced out some email records they found improperly cloaked with lawyer-client privilege, we would not be learning that the special interests in this matter extended all the way to former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and the conservative, national school choice organization for which he works - - the American Federation for Children.

Barbara Miner, a former Milwaukee Journal reporter, public school advocate and free-lance writer has tracked the school choice movement and its conservative funding, observing in an unpublished essay (and, again, citing Lueders): a senior adviser to the American Federation for Children/Alliance for School Choice.

According to a Sept 21, 2011 report by Madison-based journalist Bill Lueders:

Jensen is also registered as one of the three contract lobbyists for the federation, which reported spending $56,659 on lobbying Wisconsin state government in the first six months of 2011. This included $6,680 to Jensen for 32 hours of lobby work, which comes to more than $200 an hour.

The bulk of the federation's lobby effort in Wisconsin is handled by its government affairs associate, Brian Pleva, formerly an aide for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon. Former Fitzgerald chief of staff Jim Bender left to become a lobbyist for School Choice...

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's analysis found that individuals and political action committees associated with school choice gave $125,220 in campaign contributions to Walker and another $181,627 to current legislators and committees, most of them Republicans, in the 2009-10 election cycle...
Continues Miner:
On May 9, 2011, the American Federation for Children invited Gov. Scott Walker to deliver a keynote address on school vouchers at its national policy summit in Washington, D.C...

A list of the funders of school voucher organizations reads like a Who’s Who of right-wing foundations and billionaires. Think Progress— a non-partisan liberal blog focusing on investigative journalism — outlined some of the funding links in a May 21, 2011 report.

Funders just for the Alliance for School Choice alone included [Betsy] DeVos, the Wal-Mart Foundation, the Chase Foundation of Virginia, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the powerful Walton Family Foundation (of Wal-Mart fame)...

The Bradley Foundation has long been one of the most important ideological and financial supporters of vouchers. It made an estimated $41 million in grants for school voucher initiatives from 1986 to 2003 alone, and subsequent grants have maintained a similar pace, according to this searchable Journal Sentinel data base.
Lessons learned:

* There's a lot of independent journalism out there on a complex subject. 

* Litigation has impacts because courts level the playing field. The emerging clash in Federal court between the grassroots group Voces de la Frontera on one side, and powerful Republican legislators with a major law firm, $400,000 of taxpayers' dollars and nationally-ranked advisers on the other side is the stuff of John Grisham novels and Hollywood films.

* Do not underestimate the reach, tenacity and financial strength of the far right's advocacy networks. With the Bradley Foundation, the school choice movement, and the Scott Walker phenomenon all rooted here, Wisconsin is deeply influenced by a committed, focused, organized, agenda-driven and wealthy conservative movement.

As the Bradley Foundation's chief executive and board chairman put it to the Journal Sentinel a few months ago:
Michael W. Grebe...likened the Bradley Foundation to the 1960s Green Bay Packers, who ruled the football world with a fearsome ground game and a deceptively simple running play, the sweep.

"We're going to run off tackle, right over there, and we're telling you we're going to run there and we're going to knock you on your butt and carry the ball down the field," Grebe said during an interview inside the foundation's headquarters near downtown. "There are no surprises."

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