Three years ago during the 2013 legislative session, Democratic State Senator Barbara McGuire voted against an expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts—aka Education Savings Accounts, aka Vouchers of Steroids—and the bill went down to defeat. Then an odd thing happened. McGuire agreed to a motion to reconsider the bill, changed her vote from No to Yes, and it passed. The Arizona Capitol Times was confused
about why she did it. Maybe it was a quid pro quo to get some of her bills passed, the reporter wrote. No, that wasn't it. The main reason: McGuire was one of 15 Arizona candidates who received backing from the pro-privatization American Federation for Children PAC in 2012, one of only two Democrats the PAC supported. AFC made what it called "an investment of $140,000" in the Arizona races, and it picked her as a good investment opportunity because she already leaned towards the pro-voucher camp. It's best for a pro-voucher Democrat like McGuire to vote against vouchers when she knows the bill will pass without her help. But when a Republican senator balked and voted No, McGuire stepped in and did her duty.
I posted about McGuire's vote and her ESA connection
on Blog for Arizona where I was writing at the time, but the MSM missed the connection entirely. Now, however, it looks like people are becoming more savvy about the money that pours into our elections to support education privatization. The AZ Republic has an excellent article explaining that the AFC, which it calls "A Washington, D.C.-based school-choice advocacy group," poured $218,000 into our primary races to help elect legislators who are likely to vote to expand ESAs.
Many of those candidates — including those who were targeted and those who benefited from its spending — said they were caught off guard by the federation's efforts to influence their races.
“We support candidates who support our issue,” said Matt Frendewey, national communications director for the American Federation for Children. "It isn’t the first time we’ve put money in Arizona, it won’t be the last time."
The article is worth reading for details about who the AFC supported and who it targeted for defeat. Some of the candidates who had money spent in their behalf claimed they're really not as pro-voucher as the AFC would like them to be, but there's nothing like a little campaign cash in the current campaign and the implied promise of more cash in the future to focus the mind on voting for vouchers. The favored candidates also know if they don't vote as they should, they might not simply be denied assistance next time. They could suffer the fate of one voucher-critical Republican who had personal details of her divorce aired by the AFC (I'm willing to bet those nasty ads from the American Federation for Children weren't very good for that candidate's children.)
Education is a big money political issue nationwide, which means dark money, and gray money, will be used to help elect candidates who agree with donors' educational priorities. We expect to see outside money spent to sway voters on legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage and hot-button issues like that, but we shouldn't forget that education is a very important issue for lots of people with lots of money to spend on elections.
A Follow-The-Dark-Money Bonus Feature
: Hat tip to Craig McDermott, who has his own blog, Random Musings
, and crossposts on Blog for Arizona, for alerting me to tweets from @AZDarkMoneyBot. It's a great place to find information about money spent by the AFC and other dark money groups in Arizona.