Sep 25, 2012
Mayor Emanuel “knows he lost” in the recent showdown with the teachers union “and finds it necessary to rehabilitate himself,” political analyst Don Rose told Newstips last week.
That’s his take on the TV ad blitz by an arm of Democrats for Education Reform – which has cost “an astronomical amount of money,” according to a campaign finance analyst.
With only 19 percent thinking he handled the situation well – “the first time the mayor has been upside down in any polling” – Emanuel “believes he needs damage control,” Rose writes in a letter to the Sun-Times on Tuesday.
“What is most distressing,” Rose writes, is that Emanuel accepts financing “from anti-union advocacy groups whose acknowledged goal is the destruction of teachers unions and the eventual breakup of public education itself.”
Rose, who advised the firefighters union around the time of their 1980 strike against Mayor Jane Byrne, concludes: “We have not seen the end of union-busting tactics emanating from the fifth floor of City Hall.”
As noted here last week, DFER was founded by billionaire hedge-fund traders who like charter schools and hate teachers unions. “National donors” funded the group’s recent expansion into Illinois, according to Catalyst; funding is now said to be a combination of local and national money, though DFER wouldn’t discuss who its donors are.
Previously the group ran radio ads criticizing the union’s decision to hold a strike vote, then calling on CTU to “get back to the table” – while negotiations were underway continuously. “If you listened to a DFER radio ad, you would have thought CTU pulled out of negotiations,” Raise Your Hand points out. The group ran TV ads throughout the strike.
Featuring Emanuel himself, the newest ad campaign works less to boost the corporate school reform agenda than to buff the mayor’s tarnished image.
It’s a symptom of the post-Citizens United political landscape and of the vastly expensive “24/7, 365-day campaign cycle” that’s resulted, said David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.
The reported $1 million price tag is “an astronomical amount,” he said, dwarfing any other campaign media spending at the moment – and especially remarkable on behalf of a politicians who’s not currently running for office.
And because it was spent by a 501 (C) 4 nonprofit — Education Reform Now Advocates, the educational arm of the DFER (which itself is a political action committee) — we have no way of knowing where the money came from, he said.
The purpose of disclosure is to help citizens evaluate the messages that interest groups pay for. It would be welcome in this case, Morrison suggests. “They could choose to disclose voluntarily,” he said.
And the activities of Education Reform Now Advocates “may be covered by lobbyist requirements,” he said. As of June, no one from DFER or ERNA had registered with the city as a lobbyist.
Along with the huge infusions of outside cash from unknown sources, the perpetual campaigning is a matter of serious concern. Morrison points out that “part of the reason we have relatively long, four-year terms” for mayor is “so there’s a substantial period when you focus on what’s best for your constituents, not what’s best for your reelection.”
“There comes a time when you have to stop campaigning and start governing,” he said. “It can be difficult to bring people together and pass legislation when you’re always sticking your finger in someone’s eye.”
Raise Your Hand Coalition lists more questions about DFER in a new blog post. Not just “why a group of hedge-fund managers from New York is trying to run public policy in Chicago.” But also, how did DFER get its hand on the cell phone numbers of CPS parents? Many parents have been asking, RYH reports.
And another thing – what if those millions of dollars spent on TV ads and robocalls had been spent on schools instead?
Raise Your Hand was neutral during the strike, though it has worked with teachers on issues like increased funding for schools and a well-rounded curriculum with less testing.
But they’re distressed to see mayoral confidante Bruce Rauner (who Rose calls “a real right-winger”) declaring on Chicago Tonight, “This is war.”
“Most parents don’t want a war. They want a district that’s looking out for all children, that is capable of collaboration.” Their concerns: “having a voice in educational policy and putting resources in the classroom.”
RYH promises to keep its focus on reforming state funding for schools. And when that push comes, it will be interesting to see if the hedge-fund guys lend a hand.