Dark Money

My campaign is fundamentally based on grassroots support. People who have known and worked with me are talking to their neighbors and urging their networks to support me.  That is the way we can win the changes we want – better schools across DC, affordable housing, improved public safety, and environmental sustainability. 

But grassroots, bottom-up democracy in DC faces a particular challenge.  

Having spent $1.2 million in 2018 and 2020 – and not having to disclose their spending until shortly before the 2022 primary — Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) are weighing in big time in the Ward 3 Council election. See here  

My family has received four mailers from DEFR for Eric Goulet. A friend reported yesterday that two DFER canvassers came to their door for Goulet. It appears DFER has been polling and perhaps sharing it. See here.  

So what is DEFR – and what does it mean for democracy and public education in Ward 3 and across DC?  

Well, the worst thing about it is that their money is dark — no individual donor names are shown.  Their finance reports in 2020 show that the money comes from a New York group — Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA). See e.g. here

Who gives to them?  Given names are not shown, we do not actually know, but we do know that over time big supporters have included people like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers, and the Walton (Wal-Mart) family.  See here and here.   

I declined to seek the DFER endorsement (given the nature of the organization many candidates took the same tack not wanting to be associated with them) but I offered to talk with them. The person I spoke with said he was shocked at how reasonable I was — completely different than what he expected — and wondered aloud whether they should proceed with a $250,000 effort to block me. But I knew that such an effort would not be turned off. 

As the father of three DCPS graduates – and an activist for better schools across DC – I believe that every family in every community deserves great matter-of-right schools – neighborhood public schools — for their kids.  (I played a leading role in organizing the citywide Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities, see here and the Ward 3 Ed Net, see here). 

That is not DEFR’s agenda. And that is one reason why the Ward 3 Council race is so important.  

Better schools across the city are critically important for DC voters, including in Ward 3. As I have said for over a decade, the long-term success of schools in Ward 3 depends on the success of matter-of-right schools in communities across the city. Indeed, the success of feeder systems from pre-K through high school throughout the city is key to the long-term success of the city itself. (There is a reason real estate stories about communities list the schools).  

If we want to retain families, we must provide them a predictable path from PK through high school and not leave them at the whim of a lottery. Families may choose something different, (and we should have a robust charter sector). But there can be no “school choice” without a great matter-of-right option in every community. Every family in every community deserves the opportunity for an excellent education in their community – not just a chance in a lottery.  

Every politician recites the importance of successful matter-of-right feeder systems in every community. For well over a decade, I have shown that I actually mean it.  

DFER and the local editorial writer at the Washington Post who does the endorsements do not share my view. And they do not want me on the Council.  

Together with hundreds of volunteers, contributors and supporters – and upholding the letter and the spirit of public financing — I am making my case to the voters of Ward 3 who appear overwhelmingly to share my view.  See recent Districtwide surveys — DC Auditor Report here at 18 and Empower Ed here

Without full representation in Congress or the full autonomy over our laws that would come with Statehood, our democratic rights in the District of Columbia are compromised enough.  Please do not reward this massive effort to use out-of-state dark money almost certainly from sources way out-of-whack with DC values to affect this election.

Moreover, consider that the spirit of the Fair Elections campaign finance program is that campaigns should be funded by DC small donors. We will see just how much DFER has spent so far in their June 10th report — the first time they will show their hand in this election 11 days before the vote. And even then it will not have a breakdown of spending on each contest. In all likelihood, DFER will spend as much in dark money on this race as any individual candidate in it. There are other independent expenditure groups, but DFER’s spending in the District far exceeds them all, even when you add the others together.  

Ward 3 is not for sale and certainly not to these actors.  

The question in this race is whether our grassroots base can prevail over an onslaught of out-of-state dark money.  

In that, this is way bigger than one candidacy or even one campaign. This is about self-government for DC.

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