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DFER as DINOs – Democrats in Name Only?

In recent elections, Democrats have worried that Republican strategists have given calculated support to candidates in Democratic primaries as a way of shaping the party to their own interests. Based on the last few years of contributions to the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), it appears that some individual Republicans may be trying out the same strategy when it comes to education policy.

As the website DFER Watch recently pointed out, at least two board members from the ultra-libertarian Cato Institute (co-founded by the infamous Koch brothers), made significant donations to DFER in the past several years, including former Cato Director Steven Ackerman and his wife, who gave a combined $10,000 to DFER in 2007.

DFER Watch also noted that Steven Klinsky, former hedge fund manager and founder of for-profit charter company Victory Schools, Inc., was one of only 17 donors to give the maximum $5000 contribution to DFER in 2010 – even though all of his other donations over the past year (over $29,000 in total) went to Republican candidates and political action committees.

Klinsky’s and Ackerman’s donations helped DFER support efforts such as the (unsuccessful) campaign to stop New York State from blocking new for-profit charters. It also supported the on-going efforts by DFER and its ally, the New York Charter School Association (where DFER head Joe Williams sits on the Board), to shift New York’s public workers into unstable 401K plans, which many Americans have seen disappear in the wake of the economic collapse – a collapse triggered by the same lack of regulation that hedge fund managers and libertarian groups now encourage us to pursue in public education.

Another DFER ally, Education Reform Now (whose Board Chairman, John Petry, is a DFER founder), just released a voters’ guide for the upcoming governors elections. Out of 37 states, ERN consistently gave Republican candidates higher ratings than their Democratic opponents – including in New York’s own gubernatorial race, where they favored Carl Paladino.

For New York Democrats who support non-profit public schools and a retirement safety net for our public workers, the questions stands – do DFER and its allies represent your interests?