Last week I wrote about a group in Idaho supporting state ballot measures to uphold the "Luna Laws" (which restrict teachers' collective bargaining rights, institute performance pay, and introduce more classroom technology) with TV ad buys, and how Secretary of State Ben Ysursa took the organization, Education Voters of Idaho, to court, in order to get them to disclose their donors. Earlier this week, a judge ruled in Ysursa's favor, forcing the donors to Education Voters of Idaho, which maintained that it was acting as a group of concerned parents tired of political bickering, into the light.
Who's on the list of donors? Perhaps the most interesting name on the list is ... a politician, none other than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As the Spokesman-Review tells it, the wife of Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Republican who supports the laws (which also received key backing from state Superintendent Tom Luna), asked Bloomberg to donate to the group at a gathering of corporate executives and other heavy hitters at the Sun Valley summit hosted annually by investor Herb Allen. Bloomberg eventually ponied up $250,000 to the group.
So is Bloomberg just a soft touch? (After all, giving away $250,000 won't send Gotham's boss, a media mogul, to debtor's prison.) Well, not necessarily: Bloomberg appears to have a broad interest in these education issues. You may recall that as part of the excellent Education Week series "The Changing Face of Education Advocacy" my colleague Sean Cavanagh wrote about Bloomberg Revocable Trust's donation to Louisiana state school board candidate Kira Orange Jones. However, in that race, the trust associated with Bloomberg donated only $10,000. John White, Louisiana's superintendent, once worked for Bloomberg, so in the Pelican State's case the connection is clearer, since Jones' positions appeared to generally match Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal's positions on education, and therefore White's as well. (Jones also had a lot of other prominent national financial backers.)
Other donors to Education Voters of Idaho included the J.R. Simplot Corp., a big agricultural business that grows (not surprisingly) potatoes, among other crops, and an heir to Albertsons, a grocery store chain.
Unless TV stations universally decide to let political TV ads air free of charge, advocacy groups in education and otherwise will take their money where they can get it in most cases. But wherever there are donor lists, there are usually one or two surprises waiting for you.
UPDATE: The Associated Press has one more interesting nugget on the Education Voters of Idaho. Apparently Yes for Education, another PAC in Idaho that supports the "Luna Laws," received a $15,000 donation from businessman Duane Hagadone on Aug. 6. On Aug. 14, in what has to count as an unusual move for political groups, Yes for Education gave Hagadone back his money. Then on Sept. 24, Hagadone contributed $15,000 again to a PAC in Idaho, but this time, he gave it to Education Voters of Idaho, before a judge ruled that they had to disclose their previously private list of donors.