COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A school choice group that pumped millions of dollars into helping get its candidates elected in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states has yet to pay a record $5.2 million fine imposed three years ago by Ohio election officials, according to the state attorney general.
The fine imposed on All Children Matter languishes even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushes a $55.5 billion budget proposal that would continue to expand school choice, doubling the number of school vouchers in the state and lifting a cap on community schools.
The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously ruled in 2008 that All Children Matter, headed by former Michigan Republican Chairwoman Betsy DeVos and run out of that state, illegally funneled $870,000 in contributions from its Virginia political action committee to its Ohio affiliate. That violated a $10,000 cap on what Ohio-based political-action committees could accept from any single entity.
All Children Matter faced a similar complaint in Wisconsin, where two individuals, a teacher's union and a union representing nurses and other health care professionals alleged the Virginia PAC acted improperly when it donated to its Wisconsin affiliate without being registered in the state.
After an 18-month investigation, the state fined All Children Matter $500 in 2009 for failing to register its PAC.
Wisconsin and Ohio have both been sites of collective bargaining battles this winter, as new Republican governors and GOP legislatures pushed collective bargaining bills that would diminish the power of many public employee unions, including those representing teachers at traditional public schools. The Wisconsin bill has passed and is caught in legal limbo; Ohio's bill could pass this week.
The All Children Matter Ohio PAC's donations in the state abruptly ceased the day the fine was imposed in 2008.
Akron industrialist and charter school operator David Brennan donated $200,000 to the Virginia entity ahead of the transfer back to Ohio. In the Wisconsin case, the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Choices in Education donated $90,000 to the All Children Matter-Virginia PAC, which then donated $35,000 to its Wisconsin affiliate.
The group's Ohio lawyer, Bill Todd, said at the time that Ohio law allows PACs affiliated with each other to make unlimited money transfers. The group's legal appeals to Franklin County Common Pleas Court and the Ohio Supreme Court were unsuccessful.
Records show Brennan has begun donating to another school choice organization called the American Federation for Children, where some alums of All Children Matter now work. Brennan donated $11,000 to the federation on Oct. 14, records show.
It is unclear whether Ohio will be able to recoup the fine. The elections commission has turned over collection to Attorney General Mike DeWine's office. Spokeswoman Lisa Hackley said the office could not provide details on the case other than to confirm they were working on behalf of their client to collect the money.
Brennan is a generous Republican donor in the state, having contributed to the campaigns of Kasich, DeWine and elections chief Jon Husted, among many others.
Calls were left seeking comment with Brennan, associates with All Children Matter and the American Federation for Children, and their attorneys.
Former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, Betsy's husband, set up All Children Matter in 2003 to push vouchers in other states and advocate for tax credits for businesses that create scholarships for children to attend private schools.
A message was left with an official at the DeVos' company, The Windquest Group, on Monday seeking comment.