D.C.-based PAC, Outside Money Funded Initiative 42’s Demise | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

D.C.-based PAC, Outside Money Funded Initiative 42’s Demise

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which donated heavily to defeat Initiative 42, congratulated GOP leaders like (from left) Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for victories.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which donated heavily to defeat Initiative 42, congratulated GOP leaders like (from left) Gov. Phil Bryant, Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves for victories. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

Post-election campaign filings are revealing that opponents of Initiative 42, mostly from outside the state, spent much more money to defeat it than they were required to report before the polls closed. Initiative 42 would have changed the Mississippi Constitution to force the Legislature to follow state law and fully fund education or be subject to judiciary consequences. Campaign-finance reports for registered PACs and PICs were due on Nov. 10 for committee spending in October.

The Improve Mississippi Political Initiative Committee is the PIC that primarily ran the "No on 42" campaign with TV ads and a website, promoting fear that one (presumably black) judge in Hinds County would control education funding if 42 passed. Records filed Nov. 10 show the group spent $844,750 to defeat the citizen ballot.

About 82 percent of that money came from one donor: the RSLC Mississippi PAC, which is the state PAC arm of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington, D.C.-based 527 political organization dedicated to "elect down-ballot, state-level Republican leaders."

The RSLC Mississippi PAC gave $600,000 to the Improve Mississippi PIC in October, the PIC's October campaign-finance report showed. Because RSLC Mississippi PAC did not donate to individual candidates in this election cycle, the PAC was not required to file reports, Secretary of State spokeswoman Pamela Weaver wrote in an email to the Jackson Free Press.

However, the RSLC Mississippi PAC's latest report shows that it also donated $30,000 to The Watchdog PAC and $100,000 to the Mississippi House Republican Caucus PAC in September. The Watchdog PAC's October campaign finance report reveals $100,000 in year-to-date donations from the RSLC Mississippi PAC on Oct. 9.

The Watchdog PAC then donated $90,000 to the Improve Mississippi PIC on Oct. 14, 19 and 27. If the Watchdog PAC used RSLC's donation to fund its Improve MS PIC donation, which is unclear, the Republican State Leadership Committee gave $690,000 of the $844,750 donations used to defeat Initiative 42 through the PIC.

The Republican State Leadership Committee did not respond to requests for phone interviews, but instead provided emailed statements. RSLC is a national organization that focuses on state-level Republican leadership, largely through individual PAC arms for states. Funding for the 527 comes from several large, national corporations. According to 2014 Open Secrets data, RSLC's top donors last year included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Reynolds American, Las Vegas Sands and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, who together donated more than $6 million. Walmart Stores and Koch Industries were also on the top-10 highest donor list.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' national advocacy organization, donated $239,097 to the KidsFirst Mississippi PAC, the other prominent anti-42 PAC, which placed radio, Facebook, Google and other media ads against Initiative 42, campaign-finance records show. The KidsFirst PAC only reported spending $123,193 on its October campaign-finance report.

November campaign-finance reports for PACs are not due until December 10.

In a press statement to the Jackson Free Press, RSLC said: "Initiative 42 was bad liberal policy that was bad for Mississippi families disguised in a misleading campaign with millions of dollars behind it. We believe that the state legislature elected by all Mississippians is best to represent the needs of the state—not one judge in Hinds County. We were proud to help inform voters on the problems of Initiative 42 and are pleased that voters decided against the measure on Election Day."

Initiative 42 would not have shifted power to fund education to a single judge in Hinds County. The initiative made legal action possible if the Legislature did not follow the law, but no legal action would have been necessary to enforce Initiative 42 if the Legislature fully funded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. If the Legislature had not followed the law, any lawsuit brought against them would have to be filed in Hinds County because that's where the legal process for the Legislature begins. Any case could be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which would have the final say—not one of several judges in Hinds County.

After the election, RSLC issued a news release titled "Mississippi Votes to Stop Liberal Judicial Takeover of School Spending." The statement it provided to the Jackson Free Press said that Mississippi was an example and at the forefront of a trend in RSLC's eyes of "Democrats finding new ways to get around the elected legislative process and advance their liberal agenda through ballot initiatives."

The statement said that, this year, Mississippi was home to "many important races."

Mississippi was listed on one of RSLC's maps as a "target state" to win the lieutenant governor's race, and the state was listed in the "defend" category, indicating the group's priority to re-elect Lt. Gov Tate Reeves.

In the statement to the JFP, RSLC congratulated Lt. Gov. Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and all of Mississippi's Republican leaders on their victory.

Out-of-state funds also helped fund the pro-42 side. The D.C.-based New Venture Fund and the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation gave millions of dollars to the Better Schools, Better Jobs campaign. More than half of these funds came primarily from three main donors—two of whom are Mississippi businessmen—according to an Associated Press report.

The New Venture Fund and the Southern Education Foundation both gave $2.6 million to Better Schools, Better Jobs, but over half that donation came from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, former Secretary of State and businessman Dick Molpus and former Netscape and FedEx executive Jim Barksdale—all avowed supporters of public education in Mississippi who have invested large amounts of money in education efforts in the state over the years.

The Associated Press reviewed records showing that at least $1.6 million in donations can be pinpointed to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Molpus. Barksdale's contribution amount is unknown. Kellogg announced its donations to both charities on its website: $500,000 to the Southern Education Foundation and $900,000 to the New Venture Fund.

The Southern Education Foundation is an education and advocacy organization that works to promote early learning, advance public education and improve college access in the South.

The New Venture Fund claims to be a nonpartisan charity that supports public-interest projects, by directing donor funds to the projects. It was also involved with the launch of the Literacy Design Collaborative that helped school districts and states implement Common Core standards.

Improve Mississippi PIC and the KidsFirst PAC spent about $968,000 to defeat Initiative 42. Washington, D.C.- and Virginia-based organizations directly paid at least $723,193 of that total, which means 75 percent of the funding to defeat Initiative 42 came from outside Mississippi.

Initiative 42 might be dead, but to say that Mississippians defeated the ballot initiative seems disingenuous—according to the dollar signs, that is.

Associated Press contributed to this report. Comment at jfp.ms.

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