Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ASA Goes Rogue

By Lisa Kaiser
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Thought that the controversial anti-incumbent, anti-union “reform” group Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA) was up to more than they were letting on?

Well, according to the e-mails they posted on their Yahoo Group, they were.

The unidentified yet highly resourceful and entertaining blogger SixandSevens has posted some of them online at DailyKos.com.

The gist of the e-mail correspondence thus far is that ASA—which supporters say is divided into the nonpolitical ASA-MKE and ASA-PAC, the political, fundraising arm—was launched in 2007 to field and train candidates for the April 7, 2009, election.

As the Shepherd reported back then, supporters listed at the time of its first fundraiser included pro-voucher MPS board member Bruce Thompson and voucher supporters Joe Dannecker and Kevin Ronnie. Other supporters, including former legislator Dennis Conta didn’t seem to fit the pro-voucher profile, but ASA said they were only concerned about fielding candidates that were interested in raising student achievement, nothing more.

Well, there was a lot more going on.

Much of the correspondence dug up by SixandSevens involves Anne Curley’s and Kevin Ronnie’s discussions of recruiting a candidate to run against MPS Board President Peter Blewett. That candidate turned out to be ReDonna Rodgers, although at least one other person expressed interest in the race. Ronnie, in case you forgot, ran against Blewett and lost in 2005.

But Curley and Ronnie are also highly concerned with fundraising for candidates they trained, keeping Bruce Thompson—a lightning rod for voucher opponents—away from ASA’s public events, and its dissatisfaction with the $12,000 push poll it commissioned earlier this year to raise the organization’s profile and sow doubts about current board members, Blewett specifically. The good folks at MMAC are mentioned here and there.

It’s entertaining stuff.

But is it more than that?

ASA members have been soliciting funds for the three candidates it has trained. Citizen Action of Wisconsin has filed a complaint with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, claiming that ASA and its three “candidates”—ReDonna Rodgers, Annie Woodward and David Voeltner—should have been reporting the contributions, either as monetary or in-kind contributions.

A Feb. 19 e-mail from the “ASA Executive Committee” asked for funds for its candidates, or a big check made out to the Milwaukee Fund for Public Education, Bruce Thompson’s old pro-voucher conduit that dumped $50,000 into pro-voucher candidates’ campaigns just before the 2003 election. The e-mail also requested volunteers to work on the campaigns.

What’s more, ASA-PAC treasurer Joe Dannecker told me yesterday that the PAC hasn’t filed any campaign finance forms because there hasn’t been any activity. Well, according to these e-mails, he’s got some explaining to do.

I admit that I’m not an expert on campaign finance laws, but I suspect that ASA should have reported these activities back in February, since they’ve been going on for some time. I’ve been in contact with the City Election Commission and I haven’t been able to find any financial forms submitted by ASA. I have, however, found the PAC’s registration forms from 2007.

If anyone’s got those forms, I’d love to see them and find out exactly how much money ASA has raised, from whom, and where it’s going. If anything of note is revealed before the election, I’ll post it here.

The next filing deadline is March 30, just a week before the April 7 election. Should be interesting!

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