Thursday, March 10th, 2011

A Guide to American Majority's Plan to Dismantle Public Schools

On Tuesday we published an in-depth look at how Republican representatives running for office lied to union reps during the vetting process—lies which directly led to those Republican candidates receiving union endorsements. We also looked at how American Majority, a far right conservative organization founded by the Sam Adams Alliance, had become active in Wisconsin. Their goal: training candidates to take over school boards and city council seats to better use the "tools" in Governor Scott Walker's budget "repair" bill.

A very polite person named Kasey Ginsberg identified herself in the comments of that piece as an American Majority employee and offered some "corrections."

One of the details that Ginsberg saw as being in need of "correction" was the statement that, in cases of think tanks and the media, "Virgina-based" means "Washington D.C." Ginsberg's correction stated:

"Not that it matters, but we are based in the town of Purcellville, in western Loudon County, Virginia. In 2006 the population was just 6,200. We’re at least an hour and $5 in tolls away from D.C., so we might as well be based in Florida for as often as we’re seen inside the beltway. Check it out for yourself here. So, being identified as “Virginia-based,” means “Virginia-based.”

Though to be fair, on her own Linkedin profile, Ginsberg's employer, American Majority, is identified as being in the "Washington D.C. Metro Area."

But that's just a petty squabble and just a programming detail of Linkedin, which also apparently needs a "correction."

Far more interesting is that Ginsberg's Linkedin profile reveals that, in the four months before taking her job at American Majority last August, she was a "Koch Internship Program" intern at the Institute for Energy Research, a climate change denial think tank that has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from, yes, Koch Industries.

What a coincidence. Ginsberg told me as much: "To my knowledge, I am the only member of AM's staff to have participated in a Koch program."

Except the others. American Majority's North Texas field representative, Raz Shafer, was a Koch Summer Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization, which, in addition to being another climate change denial think tank, received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Kochs.

A bulleted accomplishment from Shafer's resume regarding his Koch fellowship: "Published in multiple media sources including 5 of the nation's top 10 newspapers."

To be fair, she did say "to my knowledge." And anyway, a Koch internship program is completely different from the Koch fellowship program.

Let's be even more fair to those complaining about a "Koch conspiracy." There are other wealthy men involved in funding "activist" training in places like Wisconsin. And they really don't get their due.

One undermentioned billionaire is Howard Rich. Rich is a Club for Growth board member, and a board chair of Americans for Limited Government. On their board you'll find Eric O'Keefe, who, as we noted earlier, is a Wisconsin resident and chairman and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance.

But again, as American Majority would argue, this is all just a coincidence and it is "sustained through the generosity of individual donors."

Despite American Majority's claim that it is "non-partisan," nearly every American Majority employee I could find has at least one stint as a staffer in a Republican's office or his campaign. Ginsberg worked for both North Carolina Rep. Bryan Gossage and the North Carolina Republican Party. Indiana-based American Majority controller Mike Moehlenhof was director of new constituent relations for Sam Brownback's presidential campaign.

It works the other way too. Former American Majority field representative Elizabeth Patton is now the district representative for constituent services for U.S. Senator Jerry Moran. Former Norm Coleman intern and later American Majority field representative Thomas Freeman is now the Redistricting Committee administrator for the Minnesota House Republican Caucus.

American Majority's two staffers in Wisconsin, Matt Batzel and Heather Weininger, are experienced Republican strategists. Matt Batzel (American Majority-Wisconsin's Executive Director) worked for Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts. Batzel was the one who arranged sponsorship for the March 6th rally in Madison for the Americans for Prosperity "Stand With Walker” bus tour. The Club for Growth paid for bus transportation (but, remember, American Majority it totally its own organization, independent of those two Koch-funded groups).

American Majority-Wisconsin's field staffer is Heather Weininger, who has a long history as a Republican strategist. She directed finance for Republican state Rep. John Gard's Congressional campaign and, according to 2010 campaign finance filings, was paid $19,375 by Republican Mark Neumann as a "fundraiser" during his Republican campaign.

Heather's husband is Wisconsin state Assembly Rep. Chad Weininger (R-4).

We mentioned the activist training done by American Majority, including its most recent event in Madison on March 5th. American Majority even provides "A Wisconsin School Board Primer" about what a school board is, how to run for it, and suggestions on reforming your school district. These suggestions, surprise, are carbon copies of both the education reforms introduced in Scott Walker's budget bill as well as the campaigning points for candidiates such as Sauk County Tea Party president and 2011 Baraboo school board hopeful John Meegan, who, as we pointed out, has been working closely with American Majority since last year.

Billed as a simple document to learn about how school boards work, the Wisconsin document includes statements such as "Scholar Richard Briffault has pointed out that nowhere does the U.S. Constitution mention a national education system…."

Their point is simple: "We must bring competition to American education to enact change: reforming the education system must be a priority for all people, regardless of party affiliation." This primer explains that too much money is spent on the school system, and implies that teachers are overpaid. (Though it does put this out there: "Let’s face it: teachers deserve to be duly compensated for their work." Radical! But wait. "However, the entrenched system of seniority-based pay—held in place by collective bargaining agreements between school boards and teachers unions—often prevents districts from compensating teachers fairly.")

At the end, it has a short list of resources. The first on the list is the Alliance for School Choice. There's also the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The American Majority's "School Board Primer" is actually a guide to dismantling public schools for charter schools.

American Majority offers ten such state-focused "School Board 101" manuals, from Indiana to Minnesota.

Finally, a clip from an American Majority "grassroots" training seminar featuring Director of New Media Strategy Austin James, from the film "Astroturf Wars":

Paul Revere would be proud… if he knew what an Amazon was.

Abe Sauer can be reached at abesauer at gmail dot com.

22 Comments / Post A Comment

Noodlehead (#8,895)

Eeesh… These odious and corrupt people make my skin crawl to the point where I need to take a shower after simply reading about them.

Van Buren Boy (#1,233)

From a personal standpoint this whole debacle has only hardened my own political beliefs which is not something that I like. I used to be open to the idea of charter schools as a means of experimentation and major reform of public sector unions but now I'm not sure. I really wish that we had a Republican Party that could provide reasonable ideas for public policy but it's a sad state of affairs when one of the two major political parties is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Watch out: that douche from the video is in here clicking thumbsup on select comments.

freetzy (#7,018)

How a Sad Little Troll Splits a Check

Tyler Coates (#451)

Loudon County is Northern Virginia. Northern Virginia is basically Washington, DC. If A equals B and B equals C, etc.

(Also, I think one of the couples from Real Housewives of Washington, DC lived in Loudon County, so by my standards "Loudon County-based" is the same thing as is "Washington, DC-based.")

SeanP (#4,058)

I live in Northern Virginia, and Loudoun county is definitely part of it.

r&rkd (#1,719)

Hi Abe. I like a lot of what you write and I admire your obvious commitment, but I wonder if this is a little shrill. That is, is it surprising that wealthy people would use their money to fund internships to provide cheap labor for ideologically-affiliated organizations and create entry-level opportunities in politics for ideologically-affiliated young people? (Is this all explained by the video? I didn't watch that yet.)

SeanP (#4,058)

I think the problem is that these organizations present themselves as grassroots, "voice of the people" kinds of things, when in fact they're wholly owned subsidiaries of Koch, Inc. It's symptomatic of the way our entire political system has been poisoned by corporate money.

deepomega (#1,720)

But MoveOn doesn't count? "grassroots" isn't really a thing any more.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Well, though. MoveOn is loud 'n' proud. They don't hide behind a dozen Potemkin names like Americans for a Concerted Meltdown and go around pretending not to be involved with one another.

Vulpes (#946)

I'm just waiting for "Handsome Disabled American Veterans for Puppies and Rainbows" to come out against public education or the 13th Amendment.

Abe Sauer (#148)

I think you'll find, going back to the Target thing, that I am on record as no huge fan of

r&rkd (#1,719)

Wow, both Abe and Maria respond to my humble post! In all sincerity, I'm thrilled because I love so much of each of your writing. But if you'll pardon me for pushing the point a little bit, Abe: what would you say to someone who said that your treatment of the Kochs is no better than Glenn Beck's treatment of Soros? I suppose you would first say that one difference is that the facts you cite are always correct, and that would be a good point, but would you be okay with Beck's technique even if he was more rigorous with fact-checking?

And Maria: thanks for your considered response, but are you sure you're not just assuming nefariousness too quickly? Ideologically like-minded people are likely to run into each other. Look at me: I see my career path as evidencing nothing more than a noble interest in a particular aspect of public policy, but someone could probably make my career path look nefarious, too, if he wanted. I agree that Abe got some suspicious quotes from Ms. Ginsberg, but I suspect that's just a result of a 23-year-old being in over her head (read her bio: "I haven’t been anywhere yet! But I’m excited to travel!"). Of course, perhaps there was more to the conversation that Abe can tell us about.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Wow is right. And you are right, the first thing I'd say is that my "treatment" of the Kochs has no factual rebuttals whereas Beck's treatment of just about anything sends Polifact's little meter into that awesome inflamed fireball thing.

And I'm not sure about the second part of your question but it seems like you're asking if I would be ok with Beck's appraoch if it were factual, which….

Further, as I noted above, I am no fan at all about extreme wealth setting up political activism agencies like so many Duke & Dukes matching one another in a chess game in which 99 percent of America are the pieces. I very much came out against MoveOn in the Target case.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@josiah Hey, that is very nice of you, thank you. I giantly agree (seriously, you can have no idea how much) that it is a good thing to be full of doubts where one's own ideology is concerned. I can't agree though that the conclusions one is forced to draw from this piece are a matter of Ms. Ginsberg's quotes being "suspicious". We can take it as read that Abe didn't tamper with her LinkedIn profile, for example.

It's unfortunate but also a fact that in the last ten years astroturfing has been a specialty of the far right. Believe me I have my beefs with my own party but none of them is to do with deceiving the public about who is paying for an ad or who is behind a group of "concerned citizens."

jackannapolis (#8,813)

Oh, God, yes! That psychopath Beck would be far more palatable if he had facts on his side. But Beck's arugments are absolutely useless once you insert facts into them. It's like trying to figure out how Santa can visit so many houses in just one night. You ruin the magic of it. You see, contrary to your belief system, there are those who do value fact above emotion and dialogue above rhetoric.

roboloki (#1,724)

abe, you made the althorse blog again today. this time because you tried to make fun of the eagle and are completely ignorant about the historical significance of that fine specimen (which, i don't think that althorse knew the original eagle burned and the current eagle is a replacement-facts! they are so inconvenient).

HiredGoons (#603)

I know it's obvious but I must just say the priorities of this country are completely fucking insane.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

This is really hilarious considering that American Majority(TM)'s founders Ned and Drew Ryun (as well as their sister) all went to a public High School. Where they were thorns in the ass of everyone in civics class.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

I really love the fact that "So You Want to Run for School Board" comes before "What is a School Board, and What Does it Do."

KarenUhOh (#19)

Allow me to put this in language these people of whom you write will understand: these fuckers need to be taken DOWN.

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