National Privatizers Funded Mississippi Legislative Candidates

Updated 1/30/16 

In 2015, Mississippi voters faced an election season that was increasingly flooded by out-of-state money, much of it coming from school privatization backers attempting to defeat pro-public education candidates. The lead actor in the onslaught, Empower MS, actively recruited pro-school choice candidates to run against pro-public school legislators in key Republican races. 

Empower MS PAC spent more than half a million dollars on Mississippi's election, with most of the money coming from the American Federation for Children (AFC), a national privatization, pro-voucher, and pro-school choice organization that was founded by Michigan billionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos. Click here to view other funders of the Empower MS PAC.

The American Federation for Children turned its attention to Mississippi in 2015 after successfully bankrolling the wins of privatization candidates in state legislatures in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennesse, and Wisconsin in those states' 2014 elections. Not limiting its PAC money to legislative races, AFC has also influenced judicial and local school board campaigns in other states. Read more about the American Federation for Children's wide web of campaign influence nationwide.

The state-based political strategy of school choice privatizers was laid out clearly by AFC co-founder Dick DeVos at the Heritage Foundation's annual meeting in 2002. The game plan explained by DeVos that day has been lavishly funded and executed by the DeVos family and other privatization backers over the last decade (view the speech on YouTube). DeVos said:

"The effort now needs to move and the focus needs to shift to the state level." (See AFC's state election impact reports from 2012 and 2014.) 

"We need to target our ability at the state level to deliver rewards and consequences to legislators on school choice issues. As simple as it seems, it does change the nature and the scope of the debate when you're able to deliver help to your friends and consequences to those who oppose the agenda."

"Rewards and consequences" election strategy 

The CEO of another AFC-connected enterprise is on record explaining how the "rewards" (campaign cash) game plan helped win legislative support for vouchers and tax credit scholarships in Florida. Doug Tuthill of Step Up for Students, an organization that takes in millions every year as administrator of Florida's tax credit scholarships, described Florida's DeVos-funded, state-level strategy at a school choice event in California in 2011 (view the speech on YouTube, at count 21:33):

"There's a 527 in Florida, a PAC which is affiliated with the American Federation for Children, it's called the Florida Federation for Children. One of the primary reasons we've been successful is we spend about $1-million every other cycle in local political races, which in Florida is a lot of money. In House races and Senate races, we're probably the biggest spender...I'd like to say people do it because it's the right thing, but that million dollars every other cycle gets people's attention."

Campaign cash in Mississippi 

That same playbook, funded by the same out-of-state privatizers, is now being followed in Mississippi. In the 2015 election, the Empower MS PAC used primarily out-of-state AFC funding, along with several start-up contributions from Mississippians, to help elect pro-voucher candidates (click here to see a list of Empower MS PAC's campaign donations to statewide and legislative candidates in 2015). 

Interestingly, the American Federation for Children funneled funding to Empower MS PAC through a newly created front group called the Mississippi Federation for Children, which lists a Washington, D.C., address and no Mississippi officers or staff. So, if not led by Mississippians, who is the Mississippi Federation for Children? The registration papers for MFC list as its chairman Greg Brock of Washington, D.C., who also happens to be executive director of the AFC.