Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I bet You Know Who Mike Bloomberg Is And You Don't Know Who Rex Sinquefield Is-- Both Want To Destroy Public Education


On the front page of the right-wing Now or Never PAC they try to get every visitor's e-mail address by asking you to sign a petition for Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz to release their tax returns. "Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have a combined personal wealth of nearly 50 million dollars," it begins. The PAC works to elect conservatives who are committed to wealthy people not paying any taxes (except, apparently, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz). In 2012 they spent $7,760,174 for independent expenditures against Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Carmona (D-AZ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and John Tester (D-MT). Except for Carmona, their independent expenditures were wasted as all those Democrats were swept to victory. They also spent huge sums of money supporting and opposing various Republicans, including over a million dollars in favor of Todd Akin, running for Claire McCaskill's Senate seat (which McCaskill was reelected to) and in favor of teabagger/deadbeat dad Joe Walsh (R-IL), who also lost.

Retired Missouri stock market speculator and fund manager Rex Sinquefield is best known for financing crackpot groups trying to abolish public schools, which he does through over 100 political action committees he's started, a shady way of funneling campaign contributions and avoiding legal limits. His other-- related-- passion is keeping taxes negligible for the top 1%.

Since 2008, he and his wife Jeanne have directly contributed $1,668,650 to right-wing candidates for federal office and GOP committees. And that's on top of what he funnels into right-wing coffers through his 100+ political action committees. He was the single biggest donor to the Now or Never PAC last year-- $1,000,000. He's also a major donor to the worst neo-fascist politicians in America, like Rick Perry (R-TX), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Joe Miller (R-AK), Todd Akin (R-MO) and, of course, Ted Cruz (R-TX), to whom he gave so much over the legal limits that Cruz was forced to return much of it. And, unless you're a right-wing politician or movement junkie, you probably never heard of Missouri's most notorious sugar daddy of the extreme right.

Monday, the Associated Press ran a wire story on the corrupting influence of big money in politics and they singled Sinquefield out as the worst of the worst, "Missouri’s undisputed campaign money whale." Missouri has no spending limits for politics. That has a lot to do with how far to the right the state has drifted.
Since the retired investment company mogul started spending his fortune in politics in 2006, Sinquefield has contributed about $25 million to candidates and political committees that support lower income taxes and school-choice measures, among other things. When Missouri operated under campaign contribution limits in 2007, Sinquefield channeled his money through 100 shell committees in an in-your-face example of how to beat the system.
Mike Bloomberg isn't sleazy the way Sinquefield is and his contributions are all made up front. He's a super-wealthy Wall Street-backing kind of conservative but he has been extremely helpful with some progressive social issues. Today Robin Kelly is on her way to Congress instead of conservative Democrat Debbie Halvorson because, in great part, of Mike Bloomberg's unrelenting and gargantuan efforts to undermine the NRA. And Robin Kelly, aside from being good on gun issues, is an all around progressive who is likely to make an excellent representative for the folks in the Southland. In November it was almost entirely due to Mayor Bloomberg's efforts (and his more than $3 million) that Blue Dog Joe Baca was defeated by Gloria Negrete McLeod. When it happened, we were over the moon-- another Blue Dog down! But McLeod may be better than Baca on guns but her overall voting record-- at least so far-- is actually worse than Baca's! She's not only not a progressive, she's voted with the GOP more than any other Democratic freshman. Of course, that isn't what Bloomberg cares about; he just wanted to defeat an NRA advocate. He helped dump crazy teabagger Ann Marie Buerkle in upstate New York-- and replace her with New Dem Dan Maffei. His efforts on behalf of candidates-- especially when you consider the amounts of money his SuperPAC, IndependenceUSA spent ($9,630,930 in 2012)-- didn't yield much. His candidates in Florida (New Dem Val Demings- $2,076,888), Connecticut (Republican Andrew Roraback- $1,117,446) and Illinois (Republican Robert Dold- $963,477) all lost. On issues, when Susan G. Komen pulled funds from Planned Parenthood, Bloomberg stepped in to cover the grant; he gave $50 million to shut down coal fired plants; he's put his money and organization behind human immigration reform and marriage equality (even officiating over the marriage of one of his top advisors); and has pushed the necessity of addressing global climate change. Good stuff, huh? We like him, right? Um... apart from what kind of a mayor he's been in New York-- again plenty of pros and cons-- his other big passion besides exterminating the NRA, is charter schools. And right now, he's spending money hand over fist here in L.A.

Last week the L.A. Times covered his efforts with an article called Bloomberg's meddling in L.A. Unified races is paying for junk ads. Oops. There's a backlash building against his candidate, anti-union/pro-charter schools shill Kate Anderson.
I kept hearing last week from readers who were having conniptions over New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $1-million donation to the local Coalition for School Reform. They said he should mind his own business, and they called this another example of an attempt by rich guys to privatize public schools, or at least turn them over to their charter school cronies.

Actually, it was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa who helped shake down Bloomberg. But I called Bloomberg's office to find out if he was aware that at least part of his money is being spent to distort the truth and misinform voters, which I'll explain in a minute.

"Mike Bloomberg is proud to help level the playing field on behalf of children and their families," a Bloomberg spokesman responded. "The union may not like it, but they should get used to it because he is just getting started."

That's more than a threat; it's a live grenade.

To be honest, I welcome anyone-- including outsiders-- whose goal is to improve public education. But the conversation has become so philosophically and politically polarized that it's hard to know who, if anyone, is acting most purely in the interest of kids.

On the contentious issue of charter schools, I think it's fair to say some do pretty well and some don't.

And although some of L.A. Unified's shortcomings can be blamed on union inflexibility, some is also due to administrative inefficiency and to parents who don't pay enough attention to their kids' academics. And all those problems are dwarfed by the fact that California is near the bottom when it comes to school funding.

I'd like to see more union give on teacher evaluations, work rules and tenure. But I'd also like anti-union forces to quit scapegoating teachers, because we owe the majority of them a debt of gratitude.

In Los Angeles, the stakes are high because L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy seems to have convinced enough people that he may get ousted if this election doesn't go his way, even though that's an unlikely, long-shot scenario.

Deasy is a creative and effective leader who ought to keep doing what he's been doing, for the most part. But I don't agree with him on everything, and I don't think we're well served if everyone on the board stands up and bows every time he speaks. That goes the other way too. It'd be disaster, for sure, if everyone on the board were a union lackey.

That brings me to incumbent board member and former teacher Steve Zimmer, who has been nobody's stooge. Zimmer, at times, has tried to bridge differences among the warring parties, winning supporters and making enemies on both sides in the process. But there's a price to pay for independence, it seems. Zimmer is under attack by the Villaraigosa-aligned Coalition for School Reform, which supports Zimmer's opponent Kate Anderson. They see Anderson, an attorney and L.A. Unified parent, as more inclined to butt heads with the union and more likely to support Deasy.

Even some of his supporters say Zimmer can be an angst-ridden, hand-wringing worrier who takes too long to decide where he stands. But I respect his answer to that charge.

"I've spent my life immersed in these issues, and when a game-changing vote or policy issue comes up, I damn well should wring my hands."

And it's not as if Zimmer is rabidly pro-union and anti-Deasy. He's proclaimed his support for the superintendent and has ticked off the union because of it. But in a game of lesser evils, the unions have thrown in their lot with Zimmer, which has made his opponents all the more determined to drive him out.

The way I see it, we've got two capable people running who both seem to care passionately about L.A. Unified's 600,000-plus students. But politics being what it is, campaign strategists on each side have polluted mailboxes and airwaves with exaggeration and distortion. It's a dirty game, and you either sling mud or get buried alive.
Nice on the rare occasion when a billionaire comes in and spends big attacking the bad guys, like the NRA. But what about the much more common occurrence, when the billionaires come in and swamp elections with their money in ways that benefit them and their cronies and leave working families in the lurch?

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