Eva Moskowitz has some very deep pockets, thanks to her powerful friends on Wall Street.
The telegenic standard-bearer for a particular corporate brand of charter school, the Success Charter Network honcho has become adept at using her multimillion-dollar war chest to buy influence and drive policy in New York State.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio reversed three Success Academy co-location decisions made by his predecessor and threatened to require wealthy charter chains to pay rent for space in public school buildings, Moskowitz and her well-heeled supporters were ready to block him. For several years, they have rained campaign contributions on the governor and lawmakers in Albany. The strategy appears to be bearing fruit.
The governor and a parade of state legislators appeared at the pro-charter rally that Moskowitz organized to overshadow the mayor’s own pre-K rally in the state capital, and later in March the one-house Senate budget resolution included charter provisions that were veritable gifts to Moskowitz.
“Eva is at the nexus of a web of big-money influence that’s seeking to dominate the politics of education,” said Billy Easton, the executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “From StudentsFirst to Families for Excellent Schools to the individual Wall Street hedge funders spending big on the charter school agenda, Eva is the connecting point between them all.”
Moskowitz’s network had more than $10 million in net assets in fiscal year 2010–2011, the most recent year for which data are available. If you include the assets held by each of its 22 individual schools — one alone had more than $6 million — that number balloons to more than $35 million, according to records.
Dialing for dollars
Between 2006 and 2010 alone, the Success Charter Network raised a whopping $14 million in donations.
The network’s funders, many of whom are also board members, are a who’s who of Wall Street big shots. The network was founded in 2006 by hedge fund managers Joel Greenblatt and John Petry, both of whom are on its board and have donated generously to politicians sympathetic to Moskowitz’s cause. Greenblatt’s private foundation pays more than half of Moskowitz’s $487,000 salary.
Another hedge funder, billionaire Daniel S. Loeb, chairs the Success Academy network board. He dropped $3 million into its coffers at a May 2013 fundraising “gala,” which netted a total of $7 million. Loeb, who is suspected of being the principal funder of conservative PR man Rick Berman’s smear campaign against AFT President Randi Weingarten, also sits on the board of anti-union “education reform” group StudentsFirst.
Moskowitz and her network have also benefited from the largesse of conservative foundations like the Walton Family Foundation (founded by the billionaire owners of Wal-Mart), which gave $4.5 million between 2009 and 2012, and the Broad Foundation (financed by billionaire businessman Eli Broad), which has donated a total of $11.4 million, including $5 million in 2013 alone.
So how does she spend all that money?
The network has racked up a hefty bill fighting its political battles. Last year alone, it paid $519,000 to political consulting firm SKD Knickerbocker and gave $254,000 to Education Reform Now, an allied political group.
Moskowitz and her corporate backers have also donated generously to Republicans and certain Democrats in Albany to build support for their “reform” agenda. Since 2011, Moskowitz’s political action committee, Great Public Schools PAC, gave a total of $90,600 to state elected officials.
Moskowitz’s PAC, in turn, received $75,000 from Greenblatt, the Success co-founder.
Other high-rollers are StudentsFirstNY, of which Moskowitz is a board member; Education Reform Now, of which Success co-founder Petry is a past chair; and Democrats for Education Reform, which Petry helped found.
The newest big player
Also in Moskowitz’s orbit is Families for Excellent Schools, which helped organize the Albany rally and has financed a $3.6 million TV advertising blitz to win more support for charters [Editors' update: Families for Excellent Schools spent a total of $5.35 million on TV commercials that ran between Feb. 25 and April 3]. The group, which was founded in 2011, shares an address with StudentsFirstNY. Its funders include many of the same right-wing organizations and Wall Street financiers that have donated to the Success Academy network. The Walton Family Foundation, for example, has given more than $700,000 over the past two years, while the Broad Foundation gave $200,000 in 2012. The Tapestry Project, headed by Moskowitz’s husband, Eric Grannis, donated $19,000 in fiscal year 2011–2012.
Charter schools and charter school-related lobbying organizations have spent an estimated $213,449 lobbying in New York State on charter-related matters in the first two months of 2014 alone, according to AFT research.
Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action, said this flood of spending has distorted the education debate.
“Regardless of people’s opinion of whether Eva’s schools do a good job or bad job, the point is that charter schools in New York State educate only 3 percent of our public school students and yet minor things like their rental agreements have become way too large a focus of statewide education policy,” Scharff said. “Policy should be focused on the 97 percent of students who attend public schools that desperately need more funding.”