Boston, MA. Alice Walton Revealed as 'Dark Money' Behind Ballot Question in Mass
Money can’t buy you love---and it doesn’t always buy political victory either.
Ten months after Massachusetts voters defeated by a 62% margin a ballot question promoting charter school expansion in the Commonwealth, voters are learning for the first time who the corporate high rollers were who underwrote the expensive pro-charter campaign. It turns out the campaign—which relied on images of minority parents and children---was funded by officials in the Administration of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, along with super-wealthy hedge fund managers and Wall Street investors both inside and outside of the Baystate.
One of the largest single donors to the group was Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas , who 6 days before the election contributed $750,000 to the campaign.
A New York based group called Families for Excellent Schools-Advocacy (FESA), was fined last week $426,466 by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance—the largest such fine in more than four decades. FESA agreed to make public its donor list, and to dissolve itself, along with a similarly named umbrella group, and to refrain from any electoral activity in Massachusetts for the next four years.
In all, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy received 87 contributions totaling an incredible $19,779,127. The group spent $20,486,927 on the campaign, of which, around 74% ($15,099,500) was parceled out to the campaign group Great Schools of Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee over a 3 months period in the run-up to the November 8, 2016 ballot.
An investigation by the Massachusetts Office of Political Campaign and Finance concluded that:
• FESA was actually a ballot question committee and was required to organize and disclose its donors.
• FESA did not disclose its campaign finance activity in a timely or accurate manner.
• FESA provided funds to the Great Schools Massachusetts Ballot Question Committee in a manner intended to disguise the true source of contributions.FESA should have organized as a ballot question committee and disclosed the original source of the funds given to the committee.”
In July of 2016, my home in Greenfield was visited by representatives of Great Schools of Massachusetts. They hung a flier on my doorknob, asking me to call Senate President Stan Rosenberg to support the charter school question. When
I went to the Secretary of State’s Office to see if this group was properly registered as a lobbyist—they were not. And they had not filed to be a ballot question committee either. I filed a complaint with the Secretary’s office, and about three weeks later, Greater Schools had registered as a ballot committee. But Families for Excellent Schools never did.
In a WBUR story the day of the charter school election, it was stated “most of the money in support came from out-of-state donors through groups that opponents attacked as ‘dark money’ because they are not required to release donors' names.”
Now we know who those donors are, and the picture is even “darker” than anyone could imagine. These wealthy donors almost got away with an anonymous election.
What you can do: The ultra-rich like Alice Walton can buy a lot of things. But our elections should not be one of them.
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