Tax Docs Link Right-Wing “Parents Group” to Leonard Leo’s Dark Money Network

Proper-wing operatives are growing their assaults on U.S. public training with an increasing variety of authorized complaints to censor books and goal academics on an array of points —stopping them from educating U.S. historical past precisely, treating LGBTQ+ college students with the respect they deserve, and forming help teams for teenagers and academics of shade. These assaults will seemingly proceed to escalate by 2024 as wedge points meant to feed the right-wing voting base and lay the groundwork for redirecting funds from public faculties to personal recipients.

One of many foremost gamers in these assaults is Dad and mom Defending Schooling (PDE), a darkish cash nonprofit group launched in 2021 within the midst of the Virginia state election cycle. Over the previous two years, PDE has grow to be a central actor within the right-wing assault on public faculties throughout the nation. The group has skilled native agitators to seize media consideration, sued college districts for supposed anti-white discrimination, and railed towards the educating of social emotional learning, correct U.S. historical past, and even ethnic studies in faculties.

Attorneys affiliated with PDE filed a minimum of four complaints in January with the U.S. Division of Schooling claiming affinity teams for teenagers or academics are unlawful. These are only a few of the various complaints the group has filed over the previous two years.

As darkish cash in training professional Maurice Cunningham has written, PDE’s “actual aim” in submitting lawsuits and complaints seems to be to “create media consideration and promote chaos and disruption.” Then teams like PDE can declare the answer to the chaos is elevated right-wing “parental supervision” over college boards. That supervision seems to contain a minority of vocal, politically motivated dad and mom dictating what different folks’s youngsters are taught or what they will learn, primarily based on whether or not such classes or books are according to their right-wing non secular beliefs and political beliefs.

PDE’s audio system are sometimes portrayed within the media as merely “involved dad and mom,” regardless of the group’s ties to the community of oil billionaire Charles Koch, far proper politicians and college privatization efforts. As a result of timetables for the submitting of nonprofit IRS types, the quantity PDE had raised to mount these assaults was unknown — till now.

PDE’s 2021 990 nonprofit IRS form reveals that the group raised greater than $3.1 million in its first 12 months, although many genuinely native grassroots efforts take years to lift that a lot cash. That kind doesn’t reveal how a lot cash PDE raised in 2022, in the course of the congressional midterm elections; the quantity it acquired to gasoline its operations final 12 months is probably going even greater than 2021. The $3.1 million disclosed for 2021 additionally doesn’t embrace any cash raised that 12 months by PDE Motion, its (c)(4) advocacy arm.

What does the brand new submitting present? First, it reveals that though PDE describes itself as a gaggle of involved dad and mom, virtually all of its funding got here from main donors fairly than dues from dad and mom. Particularly, PDE raised solely $77,272 from membership dues out of the $3,178,345 it was on condition that 12 months by funders who weren’t members.

That’s, solely 2 p.c of the group’s funding got here from native dad and mom who paid a $10 charge for membership. The overwhelming majority of PDE’s funding comes from massive secret sources underwriting the assaults on public training, sources that paid the group much more than $10 in membership dues.

PDE’s determine and its disclosed charge means that round 7,700 folks have paid dues, which might represent .01 p.c of all the dad and mom within the U.S. It’s a case research within the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

Notably, the dues paid by native dad and mom barely lined the bonus Nicole Neily paid herself in 2021, as PDE’s chief and the president of its board. Neily’s base wage was $125,000, and on prime of that compensation and retirement funding, she acquired an extra bonus of $67,500, or actually 50 p.c of her base wage. It will be uncommon if any of her dues-paying members ever acquired such a big bonus. Neily’s bonus was more than the annual real median earnings of working Individuals within the U.S. With the five-figure bonus, Neily’s whole compensation was $195,688 for 11 months of labor in 2021. In Neily’s application for PDE’s tax exempt status, she said that bonuses can be “not more than 10% of an worker’s annual wage” and that such compensation is authorised by others on PDE’s board.

That’s not all. PDE’s second-highest paid worker, Asra Nomani, who has focused Virginia faculties whereas typically being portrayed merely as a “Fairfax County mom,” acquired greater than $118,000 in whole compensation that first 12 months. That left little greater than $200,000 for the opposite 10 staff PDE reported having in 2021, that means that Neily’s bonus alone was in all probability greater than a lot of the different staff have been paid that 12 months.

Then there’s the fundraising. PDE employed a agency known as Energetic Engagement to try this process. The agency was paid greater than $371,000 in 2021, and raised quite a bit much less, about $153,000, though its full charge may very well be for work in 2022 as effectively. That agency was created by Richard Norman, a member of the Council for Nationwide Coverage, a conservative Christian/Catholic group that works with authorized activist Leonard Leo and different operatives like Ginni Thomas to advance the right-wing agenda on faculties and different points nationally and on the state stage.

As Cunningham famous, one of many largest recipients of the key cash PDE raised was the regulation agency of Consovoy McCarthy, which acquired $800,000 in authorized charges. That Arlington, Virginia, regulation agency additionally has attorneys in different cities, like Salt Lake Metropolis, the place certainly one of its companions is Tyler Inexperienced, certainly one of solely three trustees listed for Marble Freedom Belief. In late 2022, The New York Times and ProPublica reported that Marble is the car by which secretive manufacturing mogul Barre Seid gave Leo greater than $1.6 billion in 2020 to affect U.S. politics and coverage for years to come back. That’s the biggest identified donation of its form in historical past.

Inexperienced, who clerked for Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court docket, represented PDE in its efforts to get emails from the Salt Lake Metropolis Faculty District. The portion of PDE’s authorized charge to Consovoy associated to this explicit illustration is unknown; Consovoy attorneys filed a number of authorized actions throughout the nation on behalf of PDE.

What is understood is that, in creating Marble Freedom Belief, Leo selected solely two different folks he trusted to play a task within the mammoth fund as trustees, with Inexperienced the designated “administrative trustee” and Jonathan Bunch listed because the successor trustee, whereas Leo maintains sole authority to direct the funds Seid handed to him. Within the quick time Marble Freedom Belief has been in existence, Leo has filtered a few of its funds by Donors Belief and the Schwab Charitable Fund, amongst others, which helps obscure the sources of funding then handed on to different Leo-endorsed teams. Using such conduits can obscure the final word beneficiaries of funding from Leo or his backers.

It’s unknown if PDE acquired any funding from Leo’s web of groups, and the regulation doesn’t require that such funding be disclosed.

Whereas the IRS doesn’t require public disclosure of the names of a nonprofit’s main donors, it does require public disclosure of the largest contractors employed by a nonprofit. That’s how the general public is aware of that a number of of the teams which have been tied to Leo’s darkish cash community have paid Leo’s new for-profit arm, CRC Advisors, for recommendation, thus seemingly enriching Leo. That features two of Leo’s core operations: Judicial Crisis Network (JCN)/Concord Fund and The 85 Fund/Judicial Education Project. JCN is most widely known for the key position it performed within the packing of the U.S. Supreme Court docket and different courts.

When he launched the for-profit, Leo described certainly one of CRC Advisors’ foremost actions as advising big donors on who to fund.

Not all of CRC Advisors’ identified purchasers are additionally recipients of funding through Leo.

PDE’s 2021 disclosure notes that it paid CRC Advisors $106,938. Leo, as a principal in that agency, has seemingly benefited immediately from PDE paying it a six-figure charge. That charge is presumably not for polling as a result of PDE disclosed it spent $139,000 on polling, and it paid that very same determine to Aggressive Edge Analysis & Communications, a polling agency.

Accordingly, the providers Leo’s CRC Advisors offered to PDE are usually not publicly identified.

Leo’s ambitions are, nonetheless.

Following on his success in capturing the Supreme Court docket — he hand-selected Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch for Donald Trump and opposed Democratic nominees to the court docket — Leo announced his plans to dominate different components of society. He informed The New York Instances in a 2022 interview that he sought to take the teachings realized from his a long time of expertise pushing the regulation to mirror the right-wing agenda and apply them to “different areas of American cultural, coverage, and political life.”

Leo’s need to affect public training appears clear by the efforts of the teams his community is understood to be funding.

The Free to Study Coalition was launched in July 2021 with a seven-figure advert purchase marketing campaign focusing on faculties in New York, Virginia, Arizona, and nationally. Free to Study and Free to Study Motion are fictitious names registered in late June 2021 as fronts for 2 of Leo’s foremost organizations: Judicial Disaster Community/Harmony Fund and The 85 Fund.

Free to Study was lively within the 2021 gubernatorial race in Virginia, the place the right-wing media credited the win of Republican Glenn Youngkin to his success in leveraging assaults on the state’s public faculties. In September 2021, the group dropped greater than $1 million in ads focusing on Loudoun County alone. PDE was launched that 12 months and was additionally intensely targeted on public attacks on Virginia’s public schools.

Different identified CRC Advisors purchasers — like 1776 Unites, CatholicVote, The Story of America, Tea Party Patriots and Judicial Watch — have additionally sought to advertise outrage over public training in the course of the right-wing assault on faculties over the previous two years.

Speech First, one other group beforehand tied to Neily, paid CRC Public Relations (one other arm of CRC Advisors) greater than $250,000 in 2021, in response to that group’s 990 IRS form. Like PDE, Speech First additionally made substantial funds to the Consovoy McCarthy regulation agency. Speech First is a part of the Leo community: it acquired $750,000 from The 85 Fund from 2020 to 2021.

True North has additionally obtained PDE’s initial filing for tax-exempt standing exhibiting legal professional Jason Torchinsky — who works for the right-wing aligned regulation agency of Holtzman Vogel, which has registered a number of of Leo’s entities — as having energy of legal professional for the group. (Torchinsky has labored for an array of right-wing teams, together with the National Republican Redistricting Trust and the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council.)

Different teams intently tied to Neily and assaults on public education are additionally a part of the Leo community. The darkish cash duo “Impartial Girls’s Discussion board” (IWF) — the place Neily was previously govt director — and “Impartial Girls’s Voice” have acquired over $5 million from Leo’s community since 2014. PDE’s former Vice President of Technique Asra Nomani is now an IWF fellow, along with being PDE’s second-highest paid worker.

IWF actively attacked Virginia faculties as “poisonous” in the course of the 2021 governor’s race and has more and more tried to discredit public schools by selling anti-trans concern mongering and assailing masking and vaccine necessities designed to maintain college students and employees secure in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. IWF has additionally supported an array of measures to privatize public schools or redirect public college funding.

Hostility towards public faculties is a by line for teams like PDE and IWF. This by line goes again a long time, earlier than the teams even existed.

For instance, in 1986, Robert Thoburn, who later joined the Council for Nationwide Coverage — a secretive group of highly effective Christian/Catholic nationalists the place Leo has been and should still be on the board of governors — defined in his guide, The Kids Entice: “I think about each Christian would agree that we have to take away the humanism from the general public faculties. There is just one strategy to accomplish this: to abolish the general public faculties.” He urged Christians to run for college boards with the intent “to sink the ship.”

The Christian and Catholic right-wing has had important success since then in focusing on public faculties. Since 2020 specifically, right-wing political operatives have sought to take over native college boards — throwing cash into flipping management of boards of training across the country — with latest wins in some districts in Texas, California and Florida — and pushing for the banning of books they disapprove of in public faculties.

PDE additionally filed an amicus transient in a pair of instances earlier than the Supreme Court docket, the place the right-wing supermajority is poised to intestine affirmative motion on the behest of a veritable military of Leo-tied teams. These teams, which Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) has dubbed the “amicus flotilla,” present help for the right-wing justices on the court docket to undercut Individuals’ rights and overturn long-standing authorized precedents.

These instances have been introduced ahead by the right-wing group College students for Honest Admissions, which itself acquired a quarter-million {dollars} from Leo’s 85 Fund in 2020. Ed Blum, who sits on PDE’s board, is a plaintiff within the joint case, regardless of not being a pupil at both of the colleges being sued.

All this reveals how PDE’s sudden arrival has been met with main funding from secret sources because it continues to painting itself within the media as merely “native mothers.” The native activists PDE has aided are usually not paid the large bucks that PDE’s president pays herself, however they’re benefiting from a multimillion-dollar infrastructure Neily has created to assail faculties and academics throughout the nation, an operation that seems to be increasing because the group enters its third 12 months of operation and eyes the 2024 elections.

Be aware: True North Analysis Senior Researcher Evan Vorpahl contributed to this report.

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