April 16, 2023

Maurice Cunningham: Banned in Boston (Globe): the Walton Family’s 2021 Political Team

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Maurice Cunningham is a retired professor and experienced tracker of dark and murky money in education politics. Periodically he rolls out some of the information that some media outlets never quite get around to publishing.

We all love us some Market Basket so imagine if the Walton family of Arkansas (d/b/a WalMart) bankrolled a takeover of our local grocer! News coverage would be constant—the Globe, the two NPR radio stations, local TV descending on shoppers to ask about their favorite possum pie recipes (it’s an Arkansas delicacy).  But the Waltons spend millions to privatize Massachusetts public schools and what do we get for coverage? Bupkis.

So read on if you dare, you’ll see this information nowhere else, the super-secret 2021 WALTON POLITICAL TEAM!

What is the 2021 Walton political team? It is America’s wealthiest family underwriting fronts that seek to influence government to achieve the policy goal of school privatization. As political scientists Kristin A. Goss and Jeffrey M. Berry teach us philanthropies sometimes act as interest groups. This political spending constitutes, as Robert Reich has written in Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing and How It Can Do Better, a little recognized and unaccountable form of oligarchic power.

The National Parents Union is one of his favorite groups to track, and he’s adding another to the mix.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! Because I’ve been leaving Educators for Excellence out of these equations. E4E is a billionaire funded “teacher” house operation intended to undermine real democratic unions. Diane Ravitch explains E4E here: “It is funded by the reactionary anti-union Walton Family Foundation, the Rightwing William E. Simon Foundation, the anti-union Bodman Foundation, and the Arnold Foundation, which wants to eliminate pensions.” From 2017-2021 E4E took in $5,495,000 from the Waltons, some of which probably found its way to Boston.

As to that asterisk in 2020 the Waltons sent $400,000 to Massachusetts Parents United to establish National Parents Union, installing MPU  president Keri Rodrigues as co-founder (the other co-founder mysteriously disappeared, to be replaced as treasurer my Rodrigues’s husband). In 2021 the Waltons duked NPU another $1,200,000.

I did a search for “Walton Family Foundation” from 2017-present in the Boston Globe archives and found only five references[1] for Walton Family Foundation. None covered Massachusetts WFF’s political largess but for one letter to the editor (in response to a letter from NPU/MPU/Walton agent Keri Rodrigues) and a snippet from AP. Except . . .

For a 2021 op-ed by free-lance journalist Amy Crawford titled Do-it-yourself education is on the rise. Crawford offers a big plug for Rodrigues and wrote that WFF “channeled $700,000 into direct grants (to NPU) for technology, training, and supplies for homeschooling families, cooperatives, and learning pods, in which families pool resources to hire a private teacher.” But what I think Crawford meant was the $700,000 invested in NPU by the Vela Fund, a joint venture of the Waltons and Charles Koch. Both the Waltons and Koch seek the privatization of public schools.

The post is filled with detail and specifics of particular interest to folks who follow education in Massachusetts.

Bottom line: The Waltons spend millions to influence education policy in Massachusetts and the Globe not only keeps its readers in the dark about that but promotes DFER and Rodrigues/National Parents Union/Massachusetts Parents United as authentic voices of Democrats and parents.

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