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Jeff Bryant: How Long Can Big Money Keep Democrats in the Charter Camp?

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Jeff Bryant, a crack investigative journalist, writes on Bill Moyers’ blog about the big money that has chained many Democrats to the charter school industry, putting them in the bizarre position of defending privatization of public education.

Bryant cites evidence that the two big funders of political campaigns in California’s recent primaries were Big Oil and the Charter Industry.

The same dynamic is playing out in other states, where Big Money is buying Democratic candidates on the charter issue.


In California and beyond, charter-school advocates also team up with big finance to influence Democratic Party candidates in state and local elections.

According to a report from the Center for Media and Democracy, an organization calling itself Democrats for Education Reform has been effective in a number of states at getting Democratic candidates to team up with traditionally Republican-leaning financial interests to defeat any attempts to question rapid expansions of unregulated charter schools.

According to the CMD study, DEFR is a PAC “co-founded by hedge fund managers” to funnel “dark money” into “expenditures, like mass mailings or ads supporting particular politicians, that were ‘independent’ and not to be coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns.” The organization and its parent entity also have ties to FOX’s Rupert Murdoch and Charles and David Koch.

Colorado is another state where local elections often pit Democrat versus Democrat in campaigns where the interests of big money oppose progressive candidates who question the need to expand charter schools and exempt them from transparency laws.

In Tennessee also, the interests of right-wing organizations such as Americans for Prosperity often overlap with Democratic government officials intent on expanding charter schools.

Even in traditionally liberal states such as Massachusetts, progressive Democrats assailing the state’s conservative Republican governor for his push to “privatize” education with more charter schools are opposed by DEFR and other big money interests who declare support for charters, because these schools have had the backing of the Obama administration and, well, it’s about “kids.”

Will the public be hoaxed again by the Big Money interests?

As Matt Taibbi explains in Rolling Stone, this year’s presidential primary had the unusual turn of events where “the all-powerful Democratic Party ended up having to dig in for a furious rally to stave off a quirky Vermont socialist almost completely lacking big-dollar donors or institutional support.”

Taibbi sees many convincing signs that “[p]eople are sick of being thought of as faraway annoyances who only get whatever policy scraps are left over after pols have finished servicing the donors they hang out with.”

Clearly there are enough voters in the Democratic Party base who feel this way to convince some of their party’s candidates and current officials to challenge the wide leeway the charter school industry wants. So maybe more Democratic candidates who’ve tapped charter-school money will have some explaining to do.

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