Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nearly 40% Of Winning IPS Board Candidates' Funds Paid To Consulting Firm Owned By State Education Board Member's Spouse

I've previously discussed the large influx of out-of-state dollars which flowed into this past year's IPS school board race to finance the campaigns of three candidates backed by so-called education reform advocates who are in reality the owners of businesses which benefit directly from the education reforms they advocate. Last year, Gov. Mike Pence made a peculiar appointment to the state board of education, Gordon Hendry, who despite being a Democrat immediately became the most vocal critic of the Democratic-elected Supt. of Education Glenda Ritz. It turns out that Hendry's wife was one of the single biggest beneficiaries of that influx of out-of-state dollars used to buy the IPS school board election last November.

The three winning candidates in question, all backed by the out-of-state Stand for Children organization, collectively spent more than $191,000 for their campaigns. At-large candidate Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democratic state representative who now earns a living as an education consultant, raised over $74,000 for her campaign, more than any other candidate. Kelly Bentley won her district race after by raising more than $52,000. She earns a living as a paid consultant for GreatSchools, which provides ratings for schools. LaNier Echols, dean of students for Carpe Diem charter school, raised more than $65,000 to win her district race. No other candidates running for IPS board came anywhere close to matching the campaign expenditures of these three candidates, each raising no more than a few thousand dollars at most to spend on their respective races.

All three of these candidates relied upon the campaign consulting services of Mass Ave PR, which is owned by Jennifer Wagner, a former spokesperson for the Indiana Democratic Party and wife of state education board member, Gordon Hendry. These three candidates collectively spent nearly 40% of the money they raised to pay for Wagner's campaign consulting services, over $71,000 of the combined $191,000 they raised for their campaigns. More than $42,000, or 56% of Sullivan's campaign dollars, went to Wagner's firm. Over 40% of Echol's campaign's funds, or more than $26,000, went to Wagner's firm, representing more than 70% of her campaign expenditures. Bentley spent the least of the three candidates for Wagner's consulting services, paying her a little over $2,600. It should be pointed out that Sullivan's at-large campaign materials also promoted Bentley and Echols in their respective district races for the IPS board.

You will not read about this anywhere else in our local news media because of the incestuous relationships the reporters charged with looking out for the public's interest have with PR flacks like Wagner, but it's an important fact you need to know. Their bias became abundantly clear by the lack of attention they paid to raising serious questions about why certain people were spending so much money to elect these three conflicted candidates in particular. It also stretches credulity for anyone to believe that Hendry's actions as a state education board member are not influenced by large sums of money that are being funneled to his wife's business, albeit indirectly, by the education profiteers with a financial stake in our state's education policies.

The Star's Tom Lobianco has a story today about State Rep. Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis) forming an education consulting firm last June called Berkshire Education Strategies while he still chairs the House Education Committee. Behning, who is a florist by trade, is in the back pocket of all of these education profiteers and has sponsored the so-called education reform initiatives they have pushed to help take over the state's public education system and use it as their personal profit center. He's trying to represent a testing company as well as other companies, and he says ethics lawyers at Barnes & Thornburg told him the arrangement he's establishing would not run afoul of legislative ethics rules:
. . . Behning said Wednesday that he is looking to represent student testing company Questar in Oklahoma and would like to sign up more clients. But he added that he was doing everything possible to ensure he only represents clients out of state, and not in Indiana. 
"We're trying to put together a contract that's very clear nothing would be done in Indiana, even in the potential (ethics) changes, I don't think I would fall under any," Behning said. "It's a citizen legislature and you're going to have conflicts, regardless. There's probably bigger conflicts in the legislature." 
Questar is being paid $6.4 million this year to create and run Indiana's "end of course assessments", key tests taken in high school that students must pass in order to graduate. 
Behning said he is looking to sign up more clients, but said he did not see a problem because the work would not directly coincide with his role running the Indiana House Education Committee. He said that he had a draft contract for Questar prepared by an ethics lawyer at powerhouse law firm Barnes and Thornburg and that he submitted it to members of the House Ethics Committee for consideration. 
He emphasized he has not signed any contract with Questar yet and is awaiting word from the ethics panel . . . 
According to LoBianco, House Speaker Brian Bosma has discouraged Behning from pursuing the arrangement as he seeks an ethics clearance from the House. Supposedly the House intends to adopt tougher ethics rules this year after we witnessed former House Speaker Pro Tem Eric Turner use his political muscle to parlay a family nursing home business into a multi-billion dollar fortune thanks to lax ethics rules that permitted him to freely leverage his position within the legislature to personally benefit his private business.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I wonder what ever happened to the message archive for that site?

Whois lists a phone number of 317-417-8488.

Anonymous said...

house senate and bosma and more new of turners plans for years and years. don't forget daughter served on fssa as gen counsel for dcs right out of college. planned and payed for pay to players...she resigned with a very detailed call. bosma and others are guilty as well for ethics violations.