Controversial Education Lobbyist Pushes Money Through Alabama, Rejected By Governor Bentley

Posted on: 6:25 pm, January 20, 2014, by , updated on: 09:06pm, January 20, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) – Many expect this legislative session won’t ruffle a lot of feathers, as lawmakers and the governor prepare for re-election bids in November.

That marks a stark contrast to last year, when the Alabama Accountability Act seemed to ruffle every feather. The back and forth over the bill created tension between the legislature and the governor.

Some of that tension may still linger.

Here’s the case–Money talks, and sometimes it can weave a tale.

This story comes from $5,000 that showed up as a contribution on the governor’s campaign finance records.  Then it showed  up again a month later, when he gave it right back.

The story starts with the money’s origins – StudentsFirst.

The lobbying group, founded by controversial reformer Michelle Rhee, pushes for major education changes across the country.

They recently issued a report card for state education laws.  The national average? D+.

Alabama only lagged behind a little bit, pulling in a D itself.  However, StudentsFirst did give the state credit for progress made through the Alabama Accountability Act.

The website thanks the state for passing the controversial legislation.

But the lobbyists do more than that.

Again, it comes back to money. Money, and a small house district in the Montgomery area.

Representative Jay Love decided to step down from his seat in District 74 last summer.

Our news partners at al.com refer to him as one of the most influential members of the House of Representatives, specifically because he chairs the House Ways and Means Education Committee.

Our news partners followed the sparring for his seat closely.  The race boiled down to Charlotte Meadows versus Dimitri Polizos.  They report that the Alabama Education Association weighed in heavily for Polizos, who told a public forum he opposed the Alabama Accountability Act.

Meanwhile, Charlotte Meadows supported it, and she raked in $20,000 from StudentsFirst, a full fifth of her campaign donations.

Meadows lost the election, and in December posted this to her campaign Facebook page, “I am happy to announce that I started back to work for StudentsFirst today and will be working to improve education policy in Alabama again.”

But StudentsFirst set their eyes on one more means of influence: Governor Robert Bentley.

On October 11, 2013, they send $5,000 dollars his way. On November 4, he sent it back.

Governor Bentley’s campaign staff didn’t get back to us by our 3:00 p.m. deadline on this story.  In the past, they’ve told us the campaign turns down donations when the governor will have to make a decision that the money could impact.

They say he turned down money from a pharmaceutical group because he had decisions to make on Medicaid and Medicare, though it’s worth noting he still accepted a major donation from nursing home lobbyists that very month.

No major education bills loom over this session so far, and as far as the Accountability Act itself goes, the governor has a mixed track record on it.  For example, he proposed an amendment to delay its implementation.  The legislature promptly shot that amendment down.

Now, months later, when a monied backer shows up with a check for Governor Bentley, he shoots them down.

We also reached out to StudentsFirst for comment. A spokesperson told us they didn’t want to address the situation at all.

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