Monday, March 30, 2009

It's More Than "Techno-Whoops"

By Lisa Kaiser
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I read Dan Bice’s column about Advocates for Student Achievement with great interest, since it basically updated and rehashed what I’ve been reporting on for weeks: that ASA has very questionable ties to three candidates for the MPS board, and it hasn’t filed any campaign finance forms with the City Election Commission.

Well, ASA hadn’t filed any forms until last Friday, apparently, after Citizen Action of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office and I got the group’s treasurer, former MPS board member Joe Dannecker, to admit that he hadn’t filed anything with the city.

Anyway, Bice rehashes what you’ve read on this blog—ASA’s Yahoo Group was wide open to the public, and a resourceful blogger discovered ASA’s emails and posted some of them.

Supporters say ASA is split into two groups, the nonpolitical 501C(4) ASA-MKE and the ASA-PAC, a political action committee. Campaign finance laws govern the conduct and and contact between candidates, 501C(4)s and PACs. But time and time again the ASA folks seem to blur the line between ASA-MKE and ASA-PAC.

There’s mucho evidence that ASA and candidates Annie Woodward, ReDonna Rodgers and David Voeltner were in contact throughout the campaign. I’m sure that the ASA folks will say that their educational, nonpolitical ASA-MKE was simply recruiting and nurturing these candidates, while the PAC was doing the fundraising.

But think about this:

  • The “ASA Executive Committee” sent out an email asking for donations for the candidates, or donations to the Milwaukee Fund For Public Education, a conduit currently run by Kathy Ronco, the head of the Highland Community School, an MPS charter school. MPS board member Bruce Thompson, a major advocate of vouchers and privatization of MPS, once administered this fund. It dumped $50,000 into pro-voucher candidates’ campaigns just before the 2003 election. Did the PAC send out this email? ASA-MKE?

  • ASA trained the three candidates, and even went so far as to meet with them weekly to discuss strategy. Candidate Annie Woodward told me just that in a recent interview. According to the Yahoo emails, ASA supplied text of ReDonna Rodgers’ campaign platform, to be posted on her website. That activity hasn't been reported on Rodgers' campaign finance reports. Rodgers was personally recruited by ASA's Kevin Ronnie, who once ran against Peter Blewett. Rodgers is now running against Blewett. Revenge, much?

  • Ronnie also administers Rodgers’ Facebook page, and he shows up in scads of ASA’s emails. Ronnie had this to say on Rodgers’ Facebook page:

Kevin wrote at 10:36am on March 6th, 2009
REDONNA NEEDS OUR HELP!

ReDonna needs people to walk wards - she will have people out doing lit drops and door knocking every weekend between now and the election.

If you can give part or all of a Saturday or Sunday to support this great woman email Kevin: kronnie@sbcglobal.net


  • ASA was actively fundraising for the candidates. Just one example of many is an email Kevin Ronnie sent on Jan. 21 to members of the ASA MKE Yahoo Group:

Attached is a list of the names and addresses of the campaign committees for the candidates that have been involved in the ASA process. I’ve also included the address for the Milwaukee Fund for Public Education.

I send this to everyone for two reasons:

1) So we as members of ASA can make contributions to the candidate(s) of our choice(s). 

2) So as you talk to potential donors you know where to direct them to make their contributions.

I’ve also included the address for the Milwaukee Fund for Public Education. Anyone wanting to give to more than one candidate, but wanting to write one check – can bundle the contribution through the Milwaukee Fund for Education – which is a conduit. Contributions through the conduit need to include a note indicating how the contribution is to be allocated.

Thanks to all.

kevin

Kevin Ronnie

Was this sent to or from the nonpolitical arm of ASA? Does the nonpolitical arm of ASA really exist, and, if so, is it clearly separated from the PAC? Did ASA contributions go over the limit for a school board race--$600, including in-kind donations? Did the candidates report all of their donations properly? Even, say, walk lists for door-to-door campaigning, as Bruce Thompson writes about in a few of his emails? Just asking...

  • Here’s another “whoopsie.” On Oct. 18, Bruce Thompson requested that supporters write checks to “ASA-MKE.” Thompson continues, “Because ASA-MKE is focused on elections, contributions are not tax-deductible. However, they do not fall under the campaign contribution limits. (Perhaps Joe should check.)”

So, if ASA-MKE is focused on elections, is he referring to the PAC?

  • Who supports ASA? It’s clear that MMAC does. The group held a fundraiser for ASA in February 2008—well over a year ago—and according to a Dec. 13 email sent from Anne Curley about the $12,000 push-poll commissioned by the group:

Re: fundraising for the landscaping survey, Tim Sheehy has agreed to make some calls seeking funding. However, I have to say he was less confident about raising money than when Bruce and I spoke with him in the first quarter of the year, presumably because of what's happened to the economy. I am going to e-mail the members of our advisory council today to see if I can raise money from them.


As far as I can tell, ASA’s support comes from voucher and privatization supporters such as Bruce Thompson, anti-teachers union folks, those with an axe to grind about MPS Board President Peter Blewett, and those who want Thompson to be president of the MPS board, even if it means installing candidates through highly questionable means—perhaps even worse, depending on what the DA’s office decides to do.

It’s ironic, given that ASA is trying to position itself as a “good government group,” that it doesn’t have a good grasp of what it’s allowed to do under the law.
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