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Michelle Rhee’s group tripled its budget
By: Byron Tau
July 2, 2013 02:01 PM EDT
|Former Washington, D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s advocacy group tripled its budget in the second year of existence, while spending heavily on politics across the country.|
According to tax documents obtained by POLITICO, Rhee’s group StudentsFirst raised $28.5 million between August 2011 and July 2012. The group spent more than $3.6 million on political activities during the same time period.
That fundraising number — released more than year later because of lag time in Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements — smashes the $7.6 million haul the group raised during the first nine months of existence and positions Rhee and StudentsFirst as a major outside advocacy group on the issue of education. Since their launch, StudentsFirst expanded into 18 states and claims to have helped pass over 110 new policies.
Their 2011-2012 fundraising haul is far short of the group’s initial ambitions — Rhee once promised to raise $1 billion in the first year. The group has since scaled back its fundraising ambitions.
Rhee received a salary of about $300,000 for her work with the group, for which she serves as founder, CEO and director.
The group, which has drawn the ire of teachers unions across the country, advocates a platform of school reform that includes merit pay, better teacher evaluations and tenure reform, among other agenda items. It spent heavily in politics in a half-dozen states where education reform efforts were being considered.
StudentsFirst transferred $2 million to the California-based super PAC Parents and Teachers Putting Students First. That group has spent on in-state political races, backing candidates for school board in Los Angeles, Burbank and elsewhere.
The group also sent $200,000 to the outside group Better Education for NJ Kids. That group — founded by two hedge fund financiers — spent heavily to boost Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda in 2011 and 2012.
Other recipients of five figure StudentsFirst expenditures or donations include the Michigan Republican Party, the House and Senate Republican Caucuses of Tennessee and two state Senate candidates in Tennessee.
The group gave smaller donations to the House and Senate Democratic caucuses in Tennessee, as well as a $5,000 donation to the House Democratic Campaign Committee in Missouri. And it made smaller independent expenditures and donations on behalf of a bipartisan slate of more than 150 state level and local candidates in Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Missouri and Georgia. Federal law bans nonprofit groups and corporations from giving directly to candidates, but some states permit it.
The organization works with contracts like the PR firm SKDKnickerbocker, digital firm Blue State Digital, Change.Org, Tusk Strategies and Care2.com and others.
Tarini Parti contributed to this report.
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