Conservative groups are spending big on school board races
Share Now on:
It’s hard to get more local than your local school board. So you might think that most of the money going to school board candidates would be from the immediate community. But as issues like who can use which restrooms and critical race theory are being debated, conservative political action committees have been fundraising on a national scale and sending the money to candidates around the country.
One of those groups is the 1776 Project. It’s a super PAC that’s raised a lot of money for conservative school board candidates since it started last year, when it was founded by political consultant Ryan Girdusky, who’s also the chairman.
“I kind of lose track on the day-to-day fundraising, but about $3 million,” Girdusky said.
The group spends an average of $20,000 to $25,000 per race, Girdusky said. Last year, it funded candidates in 58 elections, mostly on direct mail, text messaging and digital ads.
Traditionally, school board candidates spend $1,000 or less.
“Many of the people who run for school boards are just average parents, and they don’t have real political knowledge of how to run a campaign and fundraise and all the rest of it,” Girdusky said. “I use whatever ability I have to help these conservative candidates win.”
This kind of big spending on school board races is not unheard of.
“The idea that you would have a national PAC spending money on school board elections around the country focused on a national issue — it’s not that it never happened before. But the incidence of that is certainly way up,” said Dan Weiner, who directs the elections and government program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
Weiner points out that school board members deal with everything from bus routes to district boundaries. But big spending is driven by issues related to race and sexuality.
“They’re accounting for a disproportionate amount of the campaign spending,” he said.
One group that says it’s not spending heavily at the national level is the American Federation of Teachers, a union with 1.7 million members. President Randi Weingarten said they don’t track what their local chapters spend and that the national group is focused on policy at the state and federal level.
“I can count on one hand, in the last 10 years, the number of school board races that we have heavily invested in,” Weingarten said.
The group is keeping an eye on political fundraising and spending, she said — which may go up.
“As far as money to raise in the future, I think the possibilities are endless,” said Tiffany Justice, co-founder of the advocacy group Moms for Liberty.
The group spent $50,000 on races in Florida, according to Justice, who added that being involved in how their kids learn is a motivating force for donors.
“If you don’t have fundamental parental rights recognized in your country, in your community, what else matters?”
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.