Tennessee pro-charter school PACs' spending up
NASHVILLE – Three political action committees advocating expansion of charter schools and school vouchers have pushed their spending in Tennessee political campaigns to near the $2 million mark and are poised to pass it, according to new financial disclosures filed last week.
PACs representing Stand For Children, the Tennessee Federation for Children and Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now – previously known in the state as Tennessee StudentsFirst – collectively reported spending more than $1.2 million in July disclosures. In the new reports, covering the period of July 25-Oct. 1, show additional spending of $584,000 – most in late attack advertising prior to the Aug. 4 elections.
Tennessee Campaign for Achievement Now, also known as TennesseeCAN, reported $300,000 in spending by the PAC set up to replace one operated by StudentsFirst following a merger earlier this year with another group. The group reported spending just $18,000 in its July PAC report, which came amid what a spokesman called “restructuring” after the merger. Most of the money spent came from the group’s national organization, known as 50CAN.
The Tennessee Federation for Children, also drawing most of its funding from a national parent organization, reported new spending of $148,000 on top of $361,000 reported in July.
Stand for Children, which operates two PACs in the state, disclosed new spending of just over $143,000 for the two combined – almost all on “independent expenditure” attack advertising in state legislative primaries or local school board elections. The groups had reported about $830,000 spent as of July 25.
Stand for Children is facing an investigation by the Registry of Election after complaints were filed contending its spending in Nashville school board races was illegally coordinated with candidates. A hearing on the complaint, originally scheduled for last week, has been postponed until December.
The success of spending by the groups varied widely. All the candidates supported by Stand for Children in Nashville school board races lost to candidates who came under attack.
In state legislative primaries, the standout spending was by Tennessee Federation for Children in advertising attacking state Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who lost on Aug. 4. The group had earlier reported spending $109,363 in opposing Todd and disclosed last week another $23,714 in the new report for a total of about $133,000 – an apparent record for a single PAC against a single legislator. Todd was charged with misdemeanor theft during the campaign for allegedly stealing an opponent’s campaign signs and is awaiting trial.
On the other hand, the Federation PAC spent more than $90,000 – including more than $10,000 not previously reported -- opposing state Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, who won his Aug. 4 primary.
All three organizations bill themselves as advocates for “school choice” education reforms, though the Federation focuses on promotion of school vouchers in its legislative lobbying and Stand for Children on expansion of charter schools. StudentsFirst has backed legislation on both matters in the past.
The Tennessee Education Association, which opposes school vouchers and charter school expansion, reported spending of $66,272 during the most recent period. TEA, also known as the teachers union, in July had reported about $121,000 in spending.
Some other gleanings from the disclosures filed last week:
- The state Republican party reported a cash-on-hand balance of $224,042 in its state campaign spending account as of Oct. 1. The state Democratic party reported a balance of $128,926. Both parties reported little spending on state activities in the most recent disclosure period, though both sent funds to their separate accounts set up to provide funding in federal elections.
- House Speaker Beth Harwell reported raising $117,512 during the period for her reelection campaign and now has an account balance of $1,110,745. Her opponent in the Nov. 8 election, Democrat Chris Moth, reported raising $14,063 and loaning his campaign $50,000. He had previously loaned the campaign another $50,000. Moth’s cash-on-hand balance was reported at $97,426. Harwell also has a separate PAC account. She reported raising $51,500 for Harwell PAC in the latest disclosure and now has a cash balance of $779,928 there.Tennessee pro-charter school PACs' spending up: