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School choice backers spend heavily in Wisconsin

Education (MGN Online photo)

MADISON (AP) -- The Associated Press examined political contributions over a 10-year period by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and nearly 50 other individuals and married couples who have been major contributors to advance school choice measures in Wisconsin and nationwide. The programs they advocate for include creating public charter schools and providing taxpayer-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.

Some key findings for Wisconsin:

  • Donations since 2007 from donors focused on school choice totaled nearly $1.5 billion in Wisconsin -- with more than a third of that going to Gov. Scott Walker.

  • Walker, who has backed numerous laws to expand the voucher program statewide, increase the amount of payments and loosen enrollment caps, was the single biggest beneficiary of donations in Wisconsin. He received $512,000 since his first run for governor in 2010. Nearly half of that, about $251,000, came from DeVos to help him during the 2012 recall campaign. Just $13,500 went toward his short-lived presidential campaign.

  • DeVos and her family members donated $731,250 to politicians and political groups in Wisconsin. That is third highest for all states and second highest in 2016.

  • The American Federation for Children Action Fund was the second-highest recipient in Wisconsin, getting $385,000. That group, which was led by DeVos until last year, has been a leading advocate for school choice both in Wisconsin and nationwide. The group has its roots in Wisconsin, first doing advocacy work in 1998 in Milwaukee -- the city where the country's first voucher system was created in 1990.

    In Wisconsin, former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen is the group's top adviser and chief lobbyist. Since 2010, the AFC has spent more than $5 million to support Republicans in Wisconsin who are proponents of school choice, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending. The AP analysis tracked only contributions from individuals, not those from groups those same people supported.

  • Republicans, who are supporters of school choice, not surprisingly got most of the donations that AP tracked. The Republican Party of Wisconsin received $250,000, compared with just $6,307 for the Democratic Party. A handful of Democrats did see some money, including Milwaukee Mayor and two-time gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett ($10,000) and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold ($6,500).

  • Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson got the most of anyone in Wisconsin's congressional delegation, hauling in $42,600. House Speaker Paul Ryan was second highest, getting $18,700.

  • Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices got donations. Chief Justice Pat Roggensack received $23,900 and Justice Michael Gableman got $2,000.

  • The campaign committees that work to elect Republicans in the state Legislature were also big winners. Together they received nearly $51,000. Republicans took control of the both houses of the Legislature in 2010 and their majorities after the 2016 election are the largest in decades.

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