Maurice Cunningham: National Parents Union: Trouble at the Top
Maurice Cunningham is a Massachusetts educator who has kept an eye on the dark money that flows into the state. In the last couple of years, that has included the astro-turf National Parents Union. As he reports here, that group is in a bit of disarray. Reposted with permission from the blog MasspOliticsProfs.
National Parents Union, funded by the Waltons, Charles Koch, and other oligarchs has churned its leadership in one year so much that it deepens questions about NPU’s legitimacy. Two sets of boards of directors and the departure of a co-founder and board member will do that.
Two boards? Yep. When you visit the National Parents Union website and click on Leadership you’ll see three board members: Peter Cunningham, Bibb Hubbard, and Dan Weisberg. But NPU registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with the Secretary of State in in Massachusetts where its latest annual report filed November 1, 2020 shows two directors: Keri Rodrigues and Tim Langan.
Then there are the officers. On the website Keri Rodrigues is identified as “co-founder, Founding President.” In the Massachusetts filing she is president, and clerk too. Timothy Langan, the other director in the Massachusetts filing, is treasurer and the expiration of term for them as officers and directors is set for December 31, 2025. On the website Mr. Langan is identified as Chief Operating Officer. The 74 million.org (like NPU, funded by the Waltons) reported that Ms. Rodrigues was elected as founding president at NPU’s initial conference in January 2020 to a three year term.
That election for president takes on more mystery when we look over NPU’s original articles of organization filed with the Massachusetts Secretary of State on April 4, 2019. Ms. Rodrigues was already president! (and clerk too). The treasurer was Jennifer Rego. There were three directors: Ms. Rodrigues, Mr. Langan, and Alma Marquez of California.
Ms. Marquez was identified as an original co-founder but disappeared from the website sometime between August 17 and September 2, 2020 (information derived from archive.org). Here’s how it looked in January 2020:
Ms. Marquez was an important part of the creation story of National Parents Union as captured in the first line of a story in US News and World Report: “Two Latina mothers from opposite sides of the country have joined forces to form their own union to disrupt an education agenda . . . . “ A story on the74million.org titled Mothers of Invention: Frustrated with the Educational Status Quo and Conventional Parent Organizing, Two Latinas Gave Birth to a National Parents Unionemphasized that “The National Parent Union is the brainchild of two Latina mothers.” At that first meeting, Ms. Marquez was elected to a three year term as secretary-treasurer. On January 28, 2020 Ms. Rodrigues and Ms. Marquez made a joint appearance on a podcast hosted by Lennie Jarrett of the far right Heartland Institute. But only seven months into her three year term, Ms. Marquez disappeared from NPU’s website without a trace. Ms. Marquez’s bio on the website of her business Del Sol Group doesn’t mention her time with NPU at all. According to its 2018 tax returns the Massachusetts Parents Union, funded by the Waltons and with Ms. Rodrigues as president, paid $25,000 to Del Sol Group for consulting services.
Gerard Robinson has disappeared too. He was one of the four board members listed on NPU’s website back in January 2020. Mr. Robinson was, it appears, the only person of color on the NPU website version of the board (Ms. Rodrigues, a Latina, is named on the Secretary of State version as a director). Mr. Robinson was of interest because of the possibility that he was on the board as a proxy for Charles Koch, suggesting that Koch was putting money into NPU. Mr. Robinson was still a board member as of November 15, 2020. By December 8, 2020, he too had been removed from the leadership page of the NPU website (information derived from archive.org). It has been confirmed that Koch is invested in NPU through a joint venture with the Walton family.
In summary, according to the website last January Ms. Rodrigues was elected to a three year term as president, a position she already held according to records at the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office, which records her as serving a six year term. She is a board member at the Secretary of State filing but not on the NPU website. Ms. Marquez was a director in the Secretary of State filings but now is not. She was elected to a three year term as secretary-treasurer but seems to have been removed from that post without a successor. Mr. Robinson was a website director but did not survive a year.
Two boards of directors and a revolving door. What have we learned here? That in the world of dark money, nothing is ever as it seems.
UPDATE MARCH 12, 2021: The very day of this post, surviving NPU co-founder and president for either three or six years depending on which NPU source you believe in, Keri Rodrigues, tweeted about new board members, see below. There is no update from National Parents Union about what happened to former co-founder Alma Marquez (a board member on one of the two boards) or website board member Gerard Robinson, both of whom have disappeared. Also the tweet doesn’t say which of the two existing boards the new members are on.
Money never sleeps. Follow the money.
[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money.]