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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Connecting the Dots

Voucher backers’ behind-the-scenes support in school board races

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A new “reform” group was launched in late-2007 to recruit anti-union, pro-voucher candidates for the Milwaukee Public Schools board of directors.

We’re just now seeing the results, but only if you know where to look.

The group, Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA), is supporting three candidates in the April 7 election: David Voeltner, running against Donna Peck on the Southwest Side; Annie Woodward, challenging Michael Mathias for Charlene Hardin’s old seat; and ReDonna Rodgers, challenging MPS Board President Peter Blewett.

The ASA has been operating under the radar—and none of the ASA candidates have returned phone calls seeking comment for this article—but evidence of the group has been popping up in these weeks before the MPS board election:

  • According to a campaign e-mail sent to “friends of ASA,” Voeltner, Woodward and Rodgers “have taken advantage of the candidate orientation sessions we held last fall, the issue papers we commissioned to help candidates understand the key challenges facing MPS, and the candidate roundtables we host on Saturday mornings to provide continuing education and moral support.”
  • The e-mail then asks “friends” for donations to the candidates’ individual campaign committees, and also the Orwellian-named campaign conduit “Milwaukee Fund for Public Education,” which dumped $50,000 into voucher-supporting incumbents’ campaigns just before the 2003 board elections. The “Milwaukee Fund for Public Education” is an odd choice for a name, considering that they want to destroy public education. MPS board member Bruce Thompson, who spearheaded the voucher movement in Milwaukee, has been involved with this fund. George Mosher, who lists the fund as his employer, contributed $500 each to Woodward and Voeltner.
  • ASA registered as a political action committee (PAC) with the Milwaukee Election Commission on Aug. 16, 2007, but it has not filed any financial disclosure forms with the city since its inception, so the public doesn’t know where ASA’s funds are coming from or, as of this date, how its funds are being used. The treasurer is listed as former MPS board member Joe Dannecker, a voucher supporter who was ousted by Terry Falk.

  • Campaign strategist Eric Hogensen’s cell phone is listed as the contact number for ASA’s PAC. Hogensen is also the campaign strategist for the ASA candidates, and his fees show up on the financial forms for Rodgers and Voeltner.

  • As reported in the Shepherd on Feb. 4, ASA commissioned a highly questionable poll seeking voters’ views on MPS issues. Included in the poll were inaccurate, misleading questions about MPS Board President Blewett, who is facing ASA-backed candidate Rodgers in April. Blewett has blasted the “push poll” as a “classic sleazy campaign trick.”
  • As reported in the Shepherd in November 2007, ASA held a fund-raiser sponsored by voucher backers Thompson; former MPS board members Jeff Spence, Joe Dannecker and Ken Johnson; and former state legislator Dennis Conta. Thompson told the Shepherd at the time about its focus on recruiting pro-voucher, anti-union candidates: “We’re looking to the next election, when four [of nine board] seats will be up.”

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.