Last week, Ohio legislators demanded that President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, repay an historically massive Ohio Elections Commission fine her advocacy group had levied against it in 2008.
The OEC, which is made up of equal parts Republicans and Democrats, voted unanimously in 2008 to fine All Children Matter PAC $5.2 million for “laundering” campaign money for Ohio’s Charter School Godfather, David Brennan, among others.
How did this work? Well, back in 2006, it was a pre-Citizens United world where PACs had to adhere to different spending limits and different rules in different states. Brennan, whose political largess in Ohio is legendary, was struggling to get his candidates elected in 2006 because the Republican flag-bearer, Bob Taft, was polling below 10% approval — the worst polling numbers ever recorded for a sitting Governor.
So he hatched a scheme to funnel $870,000 into Ohio Republican coffers. And he went to All Children Matter PAC — a group formed by Betsy and Richard DeVos to push for more charter schools and vouchers — to do it. The PAC was registered in Virginia, which in 2006 had no campaign spending limits. So the Virginia PAC took $200,000 from Brennan and shipped another $670,000 to its unregistered Ohio PAC.
Who got the money? According to the Columbus Dispatch, “a number of Ohio Republican statewide and legislative candidates, both though individual donations — such as $10,000 each to Speaker Jon Husted and gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell — and campaign advertising for candidates including Rep. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, and Sen. David Goodman, R-New Albany.”
Blackwell is heading up Trump’s domestic policy transition team.
Here’s a a complete list of all the candidates that received direct contributions from All Children Matter, according to FollowtheMoney.org. You’ll notice a few candidates who are currently serving in various Ohio elected posts, including the sitting Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, Secretary of State Jon Husted, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, and Senate President Keith Faber.
Trouble for All Children Matter was their Ohio PAC wasn’t registered, and it was a clear money laundering operation. So the commission fined them triple the amount of the illegal spending, which was $2.6 million. They were dinged twice: once for raising the money in Virginia and again for spending it in Ohio. Hence the $5.2 million total fine. The amount has grown, over time, to $5.3 million because part of the fine included a daily, small, accumulating fine.
All Children Matter sued to kill the fine, but lost. In 2012, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sued to get the money and won, but has yet to collect a single penny. Why?
Because DeVos essentially closed down All Children Matter PAC and opened up the American Federation of Children.
As longtime Director of the OEC Philip Richter put it: “it’s like trying to get blood out of a turnip.”
But that doesn’t mean that appointing Ohio’s greatest political money launderer to the top education post in the country shouldn’t come without a demand that she at least make good on her group’s malfeasance. After all, Richard and Betsy DeVos are worth an estimated $5.1 billion, which would make the $5.3 million Ohio fine worth about 0.1 percent of the couple’s fortune.