Milwaukee Case for Campaign Finance Reform

Local school boards should be the perfect demonstration of grass roots politics. Local people who are concerned about children…who are concerned about education…who are in tune with the local community.

But then shit like this happens:

This school election cycle has been one of the more costly to date, with candidates raising overall more than $160,000 and spending more than $94,000.

(this is for the Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors)

How the hell did we get here? Well this particular election cycle is bringing out a very visible and vocal discussion around voucher and charter schools. So of course money is pouring in from supporters and opponents of those programs. I would expect school board races to be vehicles for retail politics: knocking on doors, flyers on door handles, calls, emails and ads on social media from small local campaigns with local engaged volunteers running the show. Instead?

An unabashed school choice supporter, Harris (Wendell Harris) is fighting to retain his District 2 seat against retired MPS teacher and school choice opponent Erika Siemsen. She is part of a slate of five candidates backed by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association (MTEA) and the liberal Working Families Party who oppose independent schools that are chartered — but not directly overseen — by democratically elected school boards.

Harris has raised about $13,000 in this election cycle, almost $11,000 of that from MMAC PAC (Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s political action committee) and board members, according to his most recent campaign finance report. He has also been the beneficiary of flyers distributed by Leaders for a Better Community, a nonprofit founded by school choice proponent and radio personality Sherwin Hughes.

Siemsen raised almost $5,500, almost half of that from the two union-affiliated PACs — the MTEA’s and state United Auto Workers — and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

emphasis mine

Holy shenanigans, that’s a lot of money for a simple district race. But that’s not the most expensive one…the MPS board has eight districts and a ninth at large seat that is elected from the entire city…and it is proving to be pretty pricey in its own right:

By far, the most expensive contest has been the race between Bob Peterson and Stefanie Dugan for the citywide at-large seat being vacated by Terry Falk.

Peterson, a retired teacher and former president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, has raised more than $63,000 since last year. Dugan, a genetics counselor, raised about $27,000 in the latest reporting period.

So not only do we have extreme spending on these local races…and I am not belittling the races…school board elections are critical to the success of local education…but these numbers are obscene. And then the money isn’t coming from the local eligible voters…it is coming from outside third party organizations in support of their own agendas…those agendas being right or wrong has no bearing here. All elections should be funded by the individuals in the districts…the ones who will actually be affected by the outcome…end of story.

Let’s get third party money and out of district money OUT of campaigns!

extra credit reading, the Blogging Blue treatise on campaign finance: Restating My Campaign Finance Reform Agenda

Or this one on the current races: Charter schools debate looms large in Milwaukee Public Schools board elections set for April 2


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