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Paying to put education in the campaign

Eli Broad, Bill Gates

KAI RYSSDAL: Just in time for campaign '08, political issue ads found their way to the Supreme Court today. The justices heard arguments about the particulars of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Something called advocacy ads were in the legal crosshairs. Spots about political issues that also mention a specific candidate by name. Which might or might not be legal under McCain-Feingold.

We won't know for sure until this summer, probably. But the case is an interesting backdrop to what might wind up being the biggest issue ad of all time. Two of this country's biggest philanthropists are promising $60 million to get education reform on the political agenda. Marketplace's Lisa Napoli takes a look.


LISA NAPOLI: When the average Joe shows up at a presidential debate, he's lucky if he gets to ask a single question.

When you're a billionaire philanthropist, like Bill Gates or Eli Broad, you pool some cash and launch a major national media and advocacy campaign.

ELI BROAD: Really, it's . . . the budget, as you know, is as large as that of a presidential campaign.

That's Eli Broad. He says the only way to get wide-spread educational reform is to get everyone talking about the issue and to put presidential candidates on the spot.

Education Policy

analyst Myron Lieberman says of the $60 million campaign:

MYRON LIEBERMAN: It's a waste of money.

Lieberman says one of the Broad/Gates goals of creating a national curriculum won't ever work.

LIEBERMAN: There'll be so much fighting over what agency should do it and whether they should do it and so forth, you'll consume all your resources in the turf problem alone.

But education analyst Lisa Snell of the think-tank The Reason Foundation says this isn't some random issue campaign. She says Broad and Gates have spent $2 billion on school reform, and they know what they're talking about.

LISA SNELL: They've been in the trenches doing this hardcore policy work in urban districts. And they've had significant improvement and closed the achievement gap in some places.

Snell says, sure Gates and Broad are buying influence. But she says everyone does — some people just have more to spend than others.

In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.

About the author

In more then twenty years in journalism, Lisa Napoli has managed to work for almost every major

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