DeSantis’s Board of Education Nominees Are Steeped in Far Right Dark Money

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has made dominating public faculties a signature problem in his efforts to enchantment to his political base, with the assistance of school-focused teams funded by darkish cash donors.

DeSantis has appointed far proper activists with ties to darkish cash teams to fill the state’s Board of Schooling, which wields vital energy over the state’s Okay-12 faculties, together with the facility to dictate academic requirements. These appointments, nevertheless, have garnered much less media consideration than DeSantis’s takeover of Florida’s New College, which included appointing Christopher Rufo, the architect of the recent manufactured outrage over supposed “important race principle” in public faculties and an worker of the darkish cash Manhattan Institute. That new board has already fired the faculty’s president, changed its board president with a DeSantis appointee, and finished away with its range initiatives.

The state’s Board of Schooling had been embroiled in controversy even earlier than the brand new appointments. In 2021, it sanctioned eight college districts over masks mandates (forcing some to hunt supplemental federal funding). The identical yr, the board additionally banned the truthful instructing of historical past in faculties via a dictate policing what lecturers can handle within the classroom after DeSantis personally advocated for the measure at a board assembly. As right-wing teams have banned books about Black and LGBTQ+ experiences throughout the nation, DeSantis’s board additionally enforced policies that resulted in empty bookshelves throughout the state whereas faculties navigated the brand new rules.

Different board actions included approving an modification allowing teachers to be disciplined for discussing sexual orientation or gender id earlier than third grade, which might successfully imply denying the existence of same-sex dad and mom of some children. The board additionally launched jingoistic academic standards to the social research curriculum and passed an expansion of DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Homosexual” legislation — a ban on discussions of sexual or gender id that was initially restricted to grades Okay-3 — to embody all Okay-12 public college college students.

This new board is composed entirely of DeSantis appointees, three of whom DeSantis introduced on the end of March. Of those three, one formerly lobbied for a school privatization firm and one other heads two organizations advocating for milquetoast “options” to gun massacres at faculties that don’t contain gun management. Two different DeSantis appointees, Esther Byrd and Grazie Pozo Christie — who’ve already sat on the board for a yr with out being confirmed by the state Senate — have been recommended for affirmation by the GOP-controlled Senate Committee on Okay-12 Schooling in early April with out debate. Underneath GOP domination, the state Senate is anticipated to substantiate the really helpful appointees.

The dearth of dialogue prevented the general public from studying extra, not solely in regards to the excessive positions of Byrd and Pozo Christie, but in addition about their ties to the darkish cash teams Mothers for Liberty, the Catholic Affiliation, and Susan B. Anthony Professional-Life America, all of which have pushed right-wing insurance policies in faculties and elsewhere.

DeSantis’s Ties to “Mothers for Liberty”

DeSantis appointee Esther Byrd, whose husband is former Florida State Rep. and present Secretary of State Cory Chook, has received local media attention for her far proper politics, together with her adherence to the extremist QAnon conspiracy principle, her defense of the violent extremist group that calls itself the “Proud Boys,” and her assist for January 6 insurrectionists.

DeSantis has appointed far proper activists with ties to darkish cash teams to fill the state’s Board of Schooling, which wields vital energy over the state’s Okay-12 faculties.

She can also be a member of Mothers for Liberty, a far proper group that has demanded e book bans and attacked native college boards and libraries throughout the nation during the last two years.

It’s no secret that Mothers for Liberty (MFL) has shut ties with DeSantis. In February 2023, he appointed Mothers for Liberty co-creator Bridget Ziegler to the Disney oversight board. She additionally helps prepare far proper college board candidates for the Leadership Institute, which has skilled extremists like discredited right-wing video provocateur James O’Keefe. MFL members have additionally spoken at a minimum of two DeSantis press conferences in 2022 on banning “wokeness” in faculties and corporations.

Emails uncovered in a public data request by True North Analysis show that MFL was influential to the DeSantis administration and its insurance policies as early as June 2021, simply six months after the group was launched.

On June 30, 2021, MFL co-creator Tina Descovich sat in on a high-level name with the Florida Division of Schooling and state senate staffers relating to COVID-19 well being insurance policies in faculties, despite the fact that Florida voters had rejected her bid to stay on the Brevard County College Board in 2020. In a follow-up email, DeSantis’s deputy chief of workers reiterated that the DeSantis administration would “most likely … put you [Moms for Liberty] to work on implementation” and directed a authorities worker to “assist guarantee Mothers for Liberty are concerned within the implementation” of HB 241, the so-called dad and mom invoice of rights signed by DeSantis that very same day.

One other MFL co-founder, Tiffany Justice, reached out to Governor DeSantis’s workplace in June 2021 to share the group’s proposed anti-vaccine and anti-masking legislation. A month later, DeSantis issued an executive order on “parental rights” and masking in a press convention the place an MFL consultant was invited to speak.

Moreover, the DeSantis administration has used MFL to stack its occasions with right-wing mothers. MFL offered the administration with attendee lists for state First Girl Casey DeSantis’s August 2021 “back to school” conversation, Ron DeSantis’s March 2022 press conference the place he signed a invoice imposing term limits on school board candidates and making native public college supplies topic to state oversight, and an August 2022 press convention the place he known as for lawsuits against doctors who treat gender dysphoria.

Ron and Casey DeSantis each spoke at Mothers for Liberty’s July 2022 “summit” the place he known as on attendees to give attention to college board elections. He later endorsed dozens of college board candidates in 2022 elections and directed over $2 million via his PAC to again them, most of whom have been additionally endorsed and/or financially backed by Mothers for Liberty.

In the meantime, the identities of Mothers for Liberty’s main donors and their agendas are nonetheless largely unknown to the general public. We do, nevertheless, know that the group obtained the 2022 Salvatori Prize from the Heritage Basis, which got here with $25,000 in cash as of 2020 and whose prior recipients embrace the infamous right-wing propagandist Tucker Carlson. Heritage has quite a few secret and public main donors, together with the Charles Koch fortune, however that prize was endowed by its namesake Henry Salvatori, who made his fortune in oil exploration and endowed different posts in his title, together with one at Chapman College held by Trump-aiding insurrectionist lawyer John Eastman.

The identities of Mothers for Liberty’s main donors and their agendas are nonetheless largely unknown to the general public.

Mothers for Liberty’s 2022 summit was sponsored by the Leadership Institute, Turning Point USA and the Heritage Foundation, all of which have obtained vital previous funding from or have deep ties to the community of oil billionaire Charles Koch, who has had a public college privatization agenda courting again to a minimum of the Seventies.

MFL’s Florida PAC additionally obtained a $50,000 donation — nearly its complete 2022 income — from Publix heiress and January 6 rally funder, Julie Fancelli. (The grocery chain sought to distance itself from Fancelli after the bloody riot on January 6, 2021.)

One other DeSantis Appointee Is A part of Spiritual Far Proper

One other DeSantis appointee to the Board of Schooling, Grazie Pozo Christie, has longstanding ties to Leonard Leo’s over $2 billion network of dark money groups set on turning again our rights.

Leo, a far proper lawyer and the architect of the conservative Supreme Court takeover, has personally advised DeSantis on his state courtroom alternatives. A key cog in Leo’s equipment, the “Judicial Disaster Community” (JCN), contributed $500,000 on to DeSantis’s 2022 gubernatorial marketing campaign and another $250,000 to a gaggle that attacked his opponent within the race. DeSantis’s greatest donor for that election was additionally the Republican Governors Affiliation, a 527 group which additionally took in $2.5 million from JCN and contributed an immense sum of over $17 million to DeSantis’s marketing campaign from 2021-2022. Chris Jankowski, the CEO of a brand new pro-DeSantis tremendous PAC “By no means Again Down” can also be listed because the settlor of Marble Freedom Belief, a large belief helmed by Leo which received a $1.6 billion donation from Barre Seid in 2021.

Pozo Christie has been on the board of The Catholic Affiliation (TCA), a 501(c)(4) non secular proper group whose acknowledged mission is to activate Catholics within the public sphere, since way back to 2013. She has been listed as a director on the tax filings of TCA and its 501(c)(3) arm, The Catholic Affiliation Basis (TCAF), since 2018. Between 2019 and 2021, Pozo Christie obtained a complete of over $205,000 from TCAF whereas working simply 5 hours per week because the group’s director, secretary and treasurer.

TCA has funded efforts to disclaim the proper to marry for same-sex {couples}. Alongside a flotilla of different Leo teams, TCAF has additionally filed amicus briefs in Supreme Courtroom circumstances, such because the Dobbs v. Jackson case that overturned Roe (for which Pozo Christie co-authored the group’s temporary); a case arguing towards employee access to contraception coverage below the Inexpensive Care Act; and a case arguing that religious-tied social service organizations must be allowed to violate nondiscrimination laws.

TCA/TCAF are core teams in Leonard Leo’s darkish cash community. Leo sat on the board of TCA in 2012 and for TCAF in 2012 and 2013. Each teams even have deep ties to Neil Corkery, a key Leo ally who has held the books for a lot of teams in Leo’s community. Corkery was president of the board at TCAF till 2014 and treasurer of TCA till 2014. Whereas not on the board of both group, he has been listed as conserving the books for TCAF in its most up-to-date 990 kind. One other longtime Leo ally, Daniel Casey, who helped launch Judicial Crisis Network, held varied management roles within the TCA/TCAF from 2012 to 2019.

TCAF has also paid almost $1 million to Leonard Leo’s for-profit enterprise, CRC Advisors, the place Corkery can also be CFO, between 2016 and 2020. In 2018 and 2019, TCAF paid a further $240,000 to Leonard Leo personally for consulting.

Since 2016, Leo’s identified belongings have skyrocketed as funding for the teams he’s tied to has additionally dramatically elevated, since he turned “volunteer” to Donald Trump on judicial nominations. Leo’s nonprofit teams have routinely paid giant sums to Leo’s CRC, as reported by Heidi Przybyla at Politico. Following this bombshell, the watchdog group Marketing campaign for Accountability called for an IRS investigation into seven of Leo’s teams which have paid over $73 million to his for-profit corporations from 2016-2021.

The shut ties between such teams and politicians like DeSantis permit tremendous rich donors with excessive views to be hidden from the general public whereas having disproportionate affect.

Pozo Christie can also be an “affiliate scholar” for the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI), the 501(c)(3) arm of its better-known 501(c)(4) sister group, Susan B. Anthony Professional-Life America (SBA), which is dedicated to destroying Roe and authorized entry to abortion care within the U.S.

CLI is liable for the poorly conducted studies used within the Alliance for Hippocratic Drugs v. FDA Texas courtroom ruling that has jeopardized access to treatment abortion nationwide. On the state stage, CLI and SBA have not too long ago filed amicus briefs pushing the Florida Supreme Courtroom to maintain bans on abortion whereas pushing for even stricter bans. Representatives from CLI testified in favor of Florida’s six-week abortion ban invoice, which SBA later thanked allies within the Florida Home for passing. SBA staffers reportedly stood alongside DeSantis as he signed the laws. A few of SBA’s non-election initiatives embrace lobbying for state abortion bans and towards the Equal Rights Amendment.

SBA has taken in a minimum of $5.3 million in funding from teams within the Leo community. SBA’s work facilities on electing anti-abortion candidates via their Ladies Communicate Out PAC, whose largest latest funder will not be a lady, however in actual fact GOP mega donor Dick Uihlein. Notably, Uihlein and his spouse Elizabeth contributed almost $2 million to DeSantis’s 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial campaigns.

As Pozo Christie’s teams promote discrimination towards LGBTQ Individuals, Pozo Christie herself has made disparaging statements about transgender folks. She has referred to the motion for trans rights utilizing dangerous false stereotypes, describing it as “hag-ridden” and “a back door to pedophilia.” She has solid being transgender as “often just a sexual fetish” and “narcissistic self-exploration.” Regardless of her excessive anti-abortion views, she has described dad and mom who’ve kids outdoors of marriage as “shameful.”

Such extremism by members of a board that determines what’s taught in Okay-12 faculties statewide must be disqualifying in itself. The darkish cash ties of those far proper actors, who’ve the facility to push the perimeter positions of their donors to public college kids throughout the state, must also increase eyebrows. The shut ties between such teams and politicians like DeSantis permit tremendous rich donors with excessive views to be hidden from the general public whereas having disproportionate affect and the facility to hawk unpopular and dangerous insurance policies that swimsuit the views of wealthy extremists.

Whereas DeSantis could need to export his “tradition struggle” assaults in a bid to “Make America Florida,” voters don’t look like falling for the coordinated right-wing assaults on reproductive rights or our local schools, a minimum of in accordance with the newest election outcomes.

Word: True North Analysis Government Director Lisa Graves and Senior Researcher Evan Vorpahl contributed to this report.

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