As you might expect, with the October 24th elections right around the corner, we here at BTA have been pounding the pavement looking into the personal and campaign financial disclosures of candidates who we know to be vehicles for the education reform agenda. What we found is that politics makes strange bedfellows, and there are some significant relationships that need to be revealed and questions that need answering.
At the forefront of the ed reform movement, right alongside the Common Core State Standards, is the effort to replace public schools with charter schools owned by private corporations. This essentially converts public tax dollars into profit for the corporation. One such corporation is Charter Schools USA (CSUSA). CSUSA is based in Fort Lauderdale, FL and owned by Jonathan Hage.
By all definitions, Hage is a curious character. His corporation manages and/or owns 70+ charter schools in 7 states. To give you an idea of just how lucrative this can be, a quick review of the 2013 tax records of the Lake Charles Charter Academy Foundation revealed that $1.3 million was paid to CSUSA in management fees. That’s one school; for one year. Let that sink in. Now, I don’t know exactly how CSUSA manages a school from all the way in Florida, but I’d like to know.
Imagine, now, an estimate of CSUSA’s yearly revenue. This would make Hage a very wealthy man from taxpayer dollars. Rich enough to jet around the country and rub elbows with the likes of Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, and a host of others. So rich, in fact, that he purchased a yacht. Thanks to some fantastic sleuthing, Sharon Aron Baron revealed in March 2014 that Hage had not only purchased a yacht, but also, named it “Fishin’ 4 Schools.” In addition, he had also established an LLC company under the same name which is still active, although after the story made the rounds on national blogs, Hage opted to sell the yacht.
Now, if you have been following BTA, you know that District 7 candidate for BESE, Holly Boffy, is part of the BESE majority that seeks to keep the ed reform agenda moving forward. She is part of the entity that approves charter schools under BESE control after local school districts have denied them. Boffy has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from LABI, Cajun Industries, Lane Grigsby et al, Leslie Jacobs et al and others, including Charter Schools USA. In 2011, CSUSA contributed an impressive $10,000 to Boffy’s campaign.
Okay, so just for clarification, let me spell it out. You have Holly Boffy, candidate for re-election on the board that determines whether charter schools are approved. She is employed by the CCSSO which holds the copyright to the Common Core State Standards. She takes campaign contributions from ed reform organizations including charter school corporations. A corporation that now, four years later, operates 5 charter schools in her BESE district. Does that sound legal? Ethical? Wait! It gets better.
It just so happens that Boffy also operates a non-profit charity. It is an annual fishing rodeo that raises money for the Alzheimer’s Association Louisiana Region. The organization is called…wait for it…Fishing for Memories! Wait! What? Isn’t that pretty similar to the name of the yacht owned by the person who owns the charter school corporation that contributes money to her campaign? Is that a coincidence?
We hope that by now you are asking yourself the same questions that we did. We thought it would be interesting to compare the money raised by Boffy’s charity to other similar fishing rodeos. In some cases, we weren’t able to determine a figure for all years, but we did get totals for several years. We reviewed tax filings, press releases and any form of media we could locate. Compared to the other events, Boffy’s event gets relatively little press, yet still out performs the other events. Here is what we found.
We were unable to review the tax info for 2014, and thus far have not uncovered a direct financial connection to CSUSA; however, we did determine that one of Fishing for Memories’ platinum sponsors is none other than Cajun Industries, the corporation owned by Lane Grigsby. According to the sponsor letter provided on their website, a platinum sponsor donates more than $1000. Completely tax deductible, of course.
Now, we want to reiterate that we’ve not discovered a clear financial connection between Boffy and Hage, other than 2011 financial contributions. Thus far, he has not contributed to the 2015 campaign, but he has contributed $15,000 the Fund For Louisiana’s Future PAC. We’ll have to wait until the “10 days prior” filings to see where that money goes, or if he contributes, directly.
It is still unclear whether Boffy benefits, financially, from her relationships with Grigsby and Hage, but $275,000 to charity certainly makes her look like a very caring and philanthropic politician, doesn’t it? The only way to know for sure is to demand that she fully disclose her relationships with Grigsby and Hage, outside of campaign contributions. If we cannot get full disclosure, then we must make our own assumptions.