“Yes on 2” School Privatizers Break Campaign Finance Law, Receive Largest Fine in State History

Governor Charlie Baker speaks alongside Education Secretary Jim Peyser and Paul Sagan, Baker-appointed chair of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and one of the donors named in the investigation.

Governor Charlie Baker speaks alongside Education Secretary Jim Peyser and Paul Sagan, Baker-appointed chair of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and one of the donors named in the investigation.

Wealthy donors forced out of the shadows by state investigation

Wealthy backers behind last fall’s push to privatize public schools were slapped with a $425,000 fine today, the largest in Massachusetts campaign finance history, for their attempts to shirk campaign finance laws by making donations while keeping their identities secret from voters and the public.

Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy illegally funneled millions of dollars to the “Yes on 2” campaign from millionaire donors, including Paul Sagan and other high-ranking officials in the administration of Governor Charlie Baker, who appeared in pro-charter ads. Baker called Sagan’s initial $100,000 donation to another "Yes on 2" organization a “nothingburger” last year, but today’s report revealed that Sagan funneled $500,000 more in dark money towards the privatization effort. Sagan serves as as the Chair of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees public schools in Massachusetts.

“This is not just the largest fine in OCPF history, it shows the incredible lengths that anti-public education groups are willing to go to hide where their money comes from and shield the identities of their big money donors from the public and voters,” said Lisa Guisbond, president of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance (MEJA).

“My team of BPS students knocked over 10,000 doors for No on 2; we had something they didn't—the people. And with them we won. Our next step is to deepen our organizing and remove people like Sagan from positions of power which allow them to disrupt the growth and blossoming of our youth in public education,” said Brian Foster, a youth leader with Boston Youth Organizing Project and No on 2 activist.

Activists expressed concern that, while the people of Massachusetts continue to show support for public education, for less testing and more learning, and for educators in public schools, wealthy individuals such as hedge-fund billionaire Seth Klarman, Jonathan Jacobson, the Waltons and the Longfields use their millions to deceive Massachusetts voters and attempt to exert influence over policy.

“Last November, Massachusetts voters sent a clear message that they value public education and want fully funded public schools,” said Malikka Williams, a Boston parent and No on 2 activist. “But some of the same donors who hid contributions to the ‘Yes’ campaign—including the billionaire Waltons of Walmart fame—are now funding phony grassroots organizations like Massachusetts Parents United. Misrepresentation seems to be a key to their game plan.”

Sarah Nathan