Pro-Voucher Democrats Fundraising Helped By Out of State Right-Wing Interests

Why would some Democrats actively work with a group that pays for hateful campaign mailers like this?
I have often been asked what happened on the school voucher issue to create a dynamic where the number of legislative Democrats who supported corporate tax credit vouchers grew from 1 to 24 between 2001 and 2011. Did the Democrats shift ideologically to the middle en mass in that period, despite continuing to lose the majority of legislative elections in the state? Why has the pro-voucher group All Children Matter, founded by Betsy and Rich DeVos (the largest family contributors to the National GOP during the 1980s and 1990s) and heavily funded by the estate of Walmart founder Sam Walton, spent over half its money in the state of Florida since 2004? I have also been asked why Florida’s Democrats seem to have accepted school vouchers while their counterparts in other states, some more conservative than Florida, continue to fight tooth and nail against them.
The simple answers are campaign cash, lack of personal convictions by Democratic officeholders and a state party with no moral compass.
When Jeb Bush was elected in 1998, backed by the Republican takeover of the Legislature two years earlier, school vouchers became one of the two biggest priorities for the new Governor. The other major priority of tort reform went along with the national GOP agenda of “defunding the left,” which meant mitigating the amount of influence the trial lawyers and teachers unions could have on political campaigns. Vouchers were a way of breaking the teachers union while echoing common Republican themes about the private sector and capitalism.
Many longtime Republican legislators were dubious about vouchers. These legislators, such as Senator Jim King and Representatives Dennis Jones and Evelyn Lynn, went along with the 1999 “A plus Plan” but voiced concerns about some of the plans’ facets. In time, all three of the aforementioned legislators would become thorns in the side of the school choice movement in Florida. Meanwhile, several other Republicans voted against the school choice plan and a few rural Democratic legislators who had stopped voting with their party on every other issue cast questions over school choice. But as time went on the conversion of Democrats from more liberal areas more than offset the defections of a few wise Republicans on the voucher movement.

The DeVos family who own the Orlando Magic were prominent financial backers of the late Rev. D. James Kennedy a Fort Lauderdale pastor whose Sunday services were beamed via satellite to a national audience. Kennedy’s weekly sermons often contained messages denouncing the separation of church and state and included frequent gay-baiting. They have also been the single largest contributor to the various groups, advocating school choice legislation in Florida, most notably the group they founded “All Children Matter.”

John Kirtley, who runs the Florida chapter of All Children Matter has been a frequent direct contributor to the campaigns of many Democrats including current House Minority Leader Ron Saunders.

According to  Right Wing Watch:

In 2004, All Children Matter-Florida run by John Kirtley paid for brochures in support of President Bush’ in Florida. The brochure falsely claimed that Senator John Kerry “opposed equal opportunity in education” and stated that President Bush supported increased education funding. Campaign finance laws require political groups to clearly identify themselves on their ads. Though the phrase “no matter what, All Children Matter” appears at the bottom of the flier the group did not place a disclaimer that they had paid for it. The Florida group then spent that money to support pro-voucher candidates in the state, without having to disclose the individuals who donated it. Relevant disclosure forms for the Florida groups will show only that money came in from All Children Matter-Virginia, with no disclosure of a connection to the Walton family. All Children Matter-Virginia appears to be the centerpiece of this scheme. ACM-VA is seeing an unprecedented cash flow even though it can only spend money in Virginia on state races and there are none in 2006. ACM-VA acts a conduit to stealthfully distribute money to other states.

According a report in the Florida Times Union the following legislative Democrats received money from pro voucher interests between 2006 and 2010

– Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington: $5,000
– Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach: $17,000
– Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry: $5,450
– Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: $17,500
– Former Rep. Ronald Brise, D-North Miami; current member of the Public Service Commission: $13,500
– Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville: $7,000
– Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach: $9,850
– Former Rep. Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville; running for state Senate: $26,500*; $41,000 to Florida Fresh Start, a political action committee he heads
– Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami: $5,450
– Former Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg: $12,451
Pat Felder-Lockett, Jacksonville Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2008: $8,750
– Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole: $16,000
– Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa: $11,450
– Rep. Hazel Rogers, D-Lauderhill: $10,000
– Rep. Darryl Rousson, D-St. Petersburg: $8,000
– Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray: $5,750
– Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West: $13,750
– Former Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa: $6,500
Sean Shaw, Tallahassee Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2010: $6,000
– Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach: $20,750
– Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek: $8,000

Read more  about this issue at
* Terry Fields lost his Special Election in 2011.
It is worth noting that this does not include Independent Expenditures which have been done by the group on behalf of many of the above listed Democrats. The TPH staff is evaluating those expenditures and hopes to have a breakdown in the near future.
This is an addition to frequent contributions from Kirtley’s group to the “Florida Mainstream Alliance” a conservative Democratic group previously associated with the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council.
In the 2012 cycle we have seen continued direct contributions from both Kirtley and his organization to a number of Democrats. Given the mounting evidence of a financial incentive for Democrats who vote for school vouchers, one must wonder if their is a direct quid pro quo. The shift in attitudes towards school vouchers has been striking among Florida Democrats since 2001, a shift that does not mirror the continued public opposition to these initiatives according to public polling, nor the continued strong opposition to these sorts of schemes by Democrats outside of Florida.
Many Florida Democrats have proven unwilling to stand strong and fight for progressive causes. As time goes on and Florida’s Democrats become less and less relevant in the political and legislative processes we find many selfish legislators have put self interest above that of the causes they claim to have once believed in. It appears out of state campaign cash from right wing sources provides incentive to some Democrats to vote against their constituents wishes and that of their party and with the agenda pushed by Rick Scott and Jeb Bush.
Editors Note: We will likely have a response from a pro-voucher Democrat in the coming days as well as endorsements of two prominent anti-voucher Democrats running in State Senate primaries on Friday.

47 thoughts on “Pro-Voucher Democrats Fundraising Helped By Out of State Right-Wing Interests”

  1. It goes without saying that true progressive activists should be looking to primary or withhold support from the people listed here.

  2. Amway is run by the Devos family and is the world’s original ponzi scheme.

    This family is heavily linked to right wing causes like banning abortion, vouchers and pushing religion throughout the country.


    I’d like to see this site ask Ron Saunders question after question about his involvement on this front. All the cash and his active lobbying of vouchers.

  3. A Real Democrat

    Here is a thorough breakdown of each the members you list:

    – Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington: $5,000

    Prides himself as a “moderate.” No excuses

    – Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach: $17,000

    African-American but easily bought and swayed

    – Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry: $5,450

    Are their any private schools in the Big Bend besides old segregationist academies?

    – Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens: $17,500


    – Former Rep. Ronald Brise, D-North Miami; current member of the Public Service Commission: $13,500

    Again, sad.

    – Rep. Charles Chestnut, D-Gainesville: $7,000

    Notoriously easy to buy

    – Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach: $9,850


    – Former Rep. Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville; running for state Senate: $26,500*; $41,000 to Florida Fresh Start, a political action committee he heads

    He lost for a reason

    – Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami: $5,450

    Actually this one surprised me

    – Former Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg: $12,451

    No shock.

    – Pat Felder-Lockett, Jacksonville Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2008: $8,750


    – Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole: $16,000

    She got more than this. Keep digging you’ll find even more on her behalf.

    – Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa: $11,450

    Very sad

    – Rep. Hazel Rogers, D-Lauderhill: $10,000

    Constantly defends her votes

    – Rep. Darryl Rousson, D-St. Petersburg: $8,000

    Former Republican

    – Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray: $5,750

    Wannabe Republican

    – Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West: $13,750

    Expletive deleted

    – Former Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa: $6,500

    I am shocked by this one. Still I like Scionti

    – Sean Shaw, Tallahassee Democrat; ran for the Florida House in 2010: $6,000

    I thought he was a consumer advocate. One of Alex Sink’s right hand men. I guess she probably feels the same way as him.

    – Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach: $20,750

    oh my goodness, a ridiculous amount.

    – Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek: $8,000

    A republican anyhow.

    What about Jeremy Ring R-Parkland???? Forget about him because you think he is an R now?

    Let’s single out those who are anti voucher and deserve our support.

    Arthenia Joyner
    Jeff Clemens
    Franklin Sands
    Dwight Bullard
    Geraldine Thompson
    Mark Pafford

    and of course

    Dan Gelber who is the best Democrat in the state.

  4. This is an addition to frequent contributions from Kirtley’s group to the “Florida Mainstream Alliance” a conservative Democratic group previously associated with the now defunct Democratic Leadership Council.

    These contributions were also made around the time the mailed you display was sent. The Florida Mainstream Alliance was headed by Dave Aronberg and associated closely with Rod Smith and even Nan Rich took part. They were determined to attack and destroy Dan Gelber, the best progressive fighter in the state. They coordinated these smears with the Kirtley group. It is no coincidence Aronberg got a do-nothing job from Pam Bondi once she beat Gelber.

    Aronberg will claim no involvement in the matter and no coordination. However he is not credible. Check out what is going on down here right now:

    Aronberg is being advised by Christian Ulvert who also runs House Victory which is busy defending almost every candidate you listed and is paid by Rod Smith’s FDP. Coincidence? I think not.

  5. While I oppose vouchers this article is borderline slander to attack some good Democrats and implying they are corrupt. Mack Bernard and Joe Abruzzo are good and decent legislators who serve the public and advance Democratic causes. They are both stars in the party headed to state senate now that Kevin Rader has left the race.

  6. This is not slader. This is about policy and if you have a problem with that maybe you should go into advertising. No slander just money they received and the way the voted. Sachs hubby represents them but she didn’t vote for vouchers in the Senate. WE are about policy and it is about time you get on board or you will be left at the station. With Ulvert, Smith, Siegal, and Johnson we will never be great. Time to switch it up! Don’t worry Patrick (we have your back)

  7. My rep. Keith Fitzgerald never too any money and always voted the right way. We hope he goes to congress. he lost his seat partly because these groups spent money against him. Those D’s especially from liberal areas that play ball with the school choice backers, and therefore religious conservatives are shameful and soulless. That starts with Ron Saunders.

  8. This website run by Kartik Krishnaiyer a liberal gadfly has now stooped to the level of the Palm Beach Post in its willingness to attack to local elected officials for running a campaign and doing their jobs. Like the Post, Krihsniayer has demonized those who have voted their conscience and who in this political climate need to raise money because unlike the Republicans we do not have money grow on trees.

    This website has like the Post held our very own Democrats to a puritanical standard that is not possibly met by anyone who runs for office in this day and age. The Post has attacked Dave Aronberg for merely running campaign and having powerful allies who help him steer through the competitive nature of a State Attorney’s race. Krishnaiyer has maliciously attached Joe Abruzzo and Mack Bernard for following their conscience and voting for something they believe will help their constituents while implying they are corrupt. The same implication was made last week about Jeremy Ring who may be our gubernatorial nominee in 2014. We assume Krishnaiyer would then back the Republican.

    For a website and a person who constantly claim they want to see the Democrats come back, this is an odd strategy. While many of the criticisms voiced on this website have merit, this obsession with school vouchers and anything that is connected with Jeb Bush on this site have further undermined our Democrats including one of our finest potential statewide candidates, Jeremy Ring.

    Kartik Krishnaiyer, I would urge you to get back to your very valid critiques of the state party not fielding candidates in winnable races and stop picking on good South Florida Democrats who are working to rebuild our party.

  9. Morning Star is right. Mack Bernard is just following his conscience. The one that tells him to sell out public school children in return for large contributions to his campaign coffers. What’s wrong with that?

  10. DeVos family and AMWAY have been key Republican fund raisers going all the way back to Reagan.

    The Walton family referenced in this article are also heavily Republican.

    The agenda is clear. Funnel tax dollars to religious schools, that way young kids cane prothalsized to and indoctrinated in religion.

  11. Not only did the candidates receive considerable financial contributions from the people, in the case of Gwyn Clarke-Reed, in both her 2008 and 2010 campaigns All Children Matter made a significant number of mailings into her district, touting how wonderful she was. When you’re able to 4 or 5 positive mailings into your district without having to outlay any funds it can really impact your campaign.

    It’s no wonder representatives like Clarke-Reed are beholden to these people and their voucher programs.

    It’s also worth pointing out that less than 10% of school voucher money goes to high school students and the largest group that receives funds are kindergarten students. In addition, 77% of voucher money goes to religious schools (source:, 1st Q 2012 report). It seems to me that we are taking money away from public education and sending to religious babysitters.

  12. It’s difficult for those elected officials to understand something, when their contributions depend on them not understanding it…..thanks to those who voted their conscience.

    Unfortunately, Florida is a one party system….

  13. Your party is bought and paid for.

    This advertisement has been paid and approved by The Florida Democratic and Republican Party.

    “Charlie Crist”-Who am I? Anyone you want me to be.
    Shout outs to Johnson, Wexler, Sachs, Bogdanoff, Abruzzo, Ring, Aaronson…(you are too old to remember)

    Thanks for having my back, while I have your ass in a bad position right now huh?


  14. This article is nothing short of mind blowing!

    Congratulations to Mr. Trotter and Mr. Krishnaiyer for such a groundbreaking piece.

    I wonder if our Chairman, and the members named in this piece will have any response. I would not count on it.

    The next time Democrats say they now support state funding of Christian schools and school “choice” based on circumstances and explain why they have changed on the issue pull out this article.

    I am very anxious to see the piece you guys write about the independent expenditures. That will be very revealing for sure!

    Keep up the good work!

    Alpha Dem

  15. Aronberg is SCUM but Ulvert is just in business of helping Democrats. I do not blame him. Recall he ran Gelber’s campaign against Aronberg.

    But the Aronberg/Aaronson/Ballard scandal is brewing. Good for the PBPost for trying to keep them honest!

  16. I think this is a great piece and kudos to both! We have settled too long in this state and I sure do not want my State Attorney to be a part of this. Bernard is not going to win and Abruzzo will be there for one reason only. More to come on that I am sure soon. The truth brings the party together and gettting those out that support their own pockets instead of those they serve is a problem. You can take money from these groups and still vote against them.

    It is like the insurance lobby. That is the reason I with others will be pushing for Kevin “Insurancestein” Rader does not come back to represent anyone. As he files against crazy sachs (he probably needs some crazy sex), then against Bernard and Clemens and now against nutty Perman, we can not afford such a bad cast of characters to represent us.

  17. Simone Walker

    Oh, MS, once again showing your hard-on for Joey and Davie. Do they play volleyball in the sand with you, is that why?

  18. I think Ring has not gotten money from them because he has not had a contested race. My sense is that they would do what it takes to keep him there if he was opposed. Jeb Bush also would work hard for him.

  19. Abruzzo and Bernard are misguided on this issue and K should probably not go after them too hard. But regarding Ring I have come to the conclusion he is a Trojan horse……a Manchurian candidate who is being encouraged by Republican oriented lobbyists to destabilize and destroy the Democratic party, or worse yet nominate someone who will mirror the GOP agenda and allow business to reign supreme even if we defeat Rick Scott. .

    I know this may sound far fetched, but who would be encouraging this guy to run for governor? Those people who pro-business, pro-vouchers and anti-union who want to protect their interest and are fearful that Rick Scott is going down.

    Think about it folks…

  20. I am totally disgusted seeing the dollar amounts associated with these members. Very sad yet revealing about the moral bankrupt nature of many Democrats.

  21. Morning Star,

    I respect that you are entitled to your own opinion. However, you have a loaded post here. Let us establish a few things.

    The Palm Beach Post and its editor Randy Schultz are a paper of a high standard and it is a compliment to be compared to them. I do not know anything of the issue you link. I have not followed the Palm Beach State Attorney’s race in the least.

    Regarding Joe Aburzzo, whose candidacy I strongly support, I am merely listing his contributions along with that of other Democrats.

    With regards to Mack Bernard, his voting record and record of contributions is highly questionable from where I sit. Our website is concerned about the continued drift of the Florida Democratic Party away from established national Democratic principles and towards that of accommodation with the majority Republicans. The Democrats in Florida have accepted minority status without a fight and continue to be incapable of clearly defining themselves and differentiating themselves from the Republicans.

    The mere fact that the House Democrats in Florida have gone from having 1 voucher supporter to 24 as we’ve fallen into a deeper minority at the same time as the leading pro voucher organization nationally (funded by some of the most decorated right wing donors in the country) has spent more than half its money on political races in Florida is a very serious issue.

    While Democrats and even some Republicans outside Florida have fought these school “choice” efforts, Florida’s Dems seem willing to make deals on these issues for campaign cash and to be accepted within the body with a super GOP majority.

    Quite frankly, I respect conservatives that vote for items such as vouchers, tort reform, restrictions on abortion, and even against some civil rights legislation more than these Democrats because it is consistent with their ideology and with the rhetoric they campaign on. Former Rep. Don Brown is an example of this. I disagree with him on every issue conceivable, but respect his intellect, passion and consistency.

    The Democrats who say one thing in their districts and then cast votes contrary to what they tell their supporters back home. Is that acceptable? We’ve seen the Democrats maintain this philosophy and fall further and further into a minority. Florida’s Democratic activists are fed up with this continued accommodation with right wing interests at the same time as the FDP is completely incapable of competing in elections beyond their own comfort zone. The state party has allowed a 50-50 state to become 65-35 on the state level. We have lost 13 of the last 14 elections for statewide office, the worst such record of any state east of the Mississippi. That means we are worse than Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and other states that may be thought of as “conservative.”

    The time is overdue for change.

  22. It is a pity you would take a comparison to Randy Schultz and say it is a compliment. It was meant to be an insult!

    You are better and smarter than him or the Post but have now stopped to his shameful, petty level with your attacks here.

    You have done much to rehabilitate your image after your unfortunate, constant malicious attacks on our leaders, Commissioner Burt Aaronson and Congressman Robert Wexler.

    Aaronson has contributed more to the Democratic cause than any other official statewide. Wexler has passed the baton of leadership on to Congressman Ted Deutch who is without a doubt the most popular local player.

    Some friendly advice. Stick to attacking Republicans and don’t get in a bed made by Randy Schultz and the Palm Beach Post.

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  24. This shows you why we can’t move forward in our schools. From Abruzzo to Ring, we have those who are more interested in raising money from supporters of charter schools and casinos than those who deserve the best quality education. This has to be stopped. Thank you so much for getting this information out to the public.

  25. Ring is the worst! Defeating him with anyone other than CharLIE is a priority for Governor. Heck, Ring makes me want to support CharLIE. Ring is n arrogant SOB.

  26. once more Morning Star has shown us who she sings for her supper to. Kartik got it right. Too bad Burt’s ego can’t take it.

  27. Bernard has a primary against Jeff Clemens who this site has endorsed. So he is not in the Senate yet. I personally support Abruzzo but aspects of his voting record are troubling but by and large he has been a good legislator and has a bright future.

  28. “I know this may sound far fetched, but who would be encouraging this guy to run for governor? Those people who pro-business, pro-vouchers and anti-union who want to protect their interest and are fearful that Rick Scott is going down. ”

    Could be or Ring may merely be so arrogant and entitled at this point he is running regardless of what people around him say or think.

  29. Lewis in Lauderdale

    Ring is a disgrace. He has a BIG surprise coming when he runs statewide. He will run worse than Jonny Byrd did in his quixotic Senate bid a few years back. Oh and maybe we will find out the truth about his real role in the founding of Yahoo! The guy is not a tech genius but an arrogant, self centered wanna be who thinks he projects power when is a nothing, a total nobody.

  30. Lewis in Lauderdale

    Further point. If Ring runs against Nan Rich in a Democratic primary and 100 Broward Dems are surveyed on who they would support, 99 would support Rich and 1 would support Ring. Rich is a real Democrat and she will have the county’s support if she runs.

  31. Lewis in Lauderdale

    I think you are on to something Molder. Ring is running for some reason. Someone is telling him to run. It could be the right wing interests scared Scott is too unpopular to be reelected but too conservative to lose a GOP Primary. Thus they must infiltrate the Democratic Party, destabilize it and pick its nominee. I for one hope Ring spends so much money in the primary he goes broke and has to actually work for a living and learn some humility.

  32. Excellent article!!!!!!

    This has been fantastic how you tied all of these themes together.

  33. This is a good website although sometimes I disagree with your views. I have to say without question this is the best article ever on this site and quite possibly on any progressive blog site in this state.

    The argument you lay out is irrefutable. It is argued perfectly and shows the clear quid pro quo between increased florida D voucher support and campaign dollars while vouchers become less and less talked about in other states, and some dens who did back them outside florida have backed off of them.

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