LILLEY: NJEA’s Dark Money and Shadowy Network of Allies Is Trying to Intimidate School Boards

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The plot thickens.  Now we see two shadowy progressive organizations join together to fight parents who have challenged the NJEA’s progressive agenda, especially those parents elected to school boards.  All signs point to the dark money behind this combined effort coming from the NJEA.  Apparently, unable to get teachers involved in its school board fights, the NJEA is now employing political operatives and legal muscle to impose its will.

It turns out the mysteriously well-funded, dark-money Super PAC Education Truth Project (ETP) is sharing its (considerable) wealth with the New Jersey Public Education Coalition (NJPEC).  Now, just like ETP, NJPEC has a new, multi-functional website, with a slick logo, and the ability to issue press releases  — all funded by ETP.  In turn, NJPEC is using the threat of lawsuits to intimidate school boards whose members oppose NJPEC’s progressive agenda.  The NJEA is not just trying to influence elections anymore; it’s also curriculums and the day-to-day functioning of school boards.

Note that this is the darkest of dark money because not only are the funders hidden from the public, but so is the spending.  As local issue advocacy (that is, not spent on candidates but on issues), such spending does not require disclosure to ELEC.  The public will never know when, where or how much money has been spent.  It is double-dark money.

EDUCATION TRUTH PROJECT.  As Sunlight detailed in our previous reportmultiple arrows point to ETP being an NJEA front.  To summarize:

  • Sunlight received a tip that the NJEA was setting up a dark-money Super PAC to combat activist parents in last fall’s school board election.  Very soon thereafter, ETP appeared on the scene.
  • ETP certainly looks like a front.  Its apparently a one-man shop, with former Republican political operative Matt Kazmierczak as the chairman, treasurer and sole point of contact for regulators.  There is no board or outside affiliations.  ETP is run out of Kazmierczak’s home, which is listed as the business address for all ETP’s filings.  Kazmierczak main qualification for his role appears to be that he knows a whole lot about politics.
  • We know that whoever is funding ETP has deep pockets. ETP has a top-notch website, created a professionally produced digital ad that ran statewide, and developed a slick logo.  None of this comes cheap.  We highly doubt Kazmierczak paid for it.  Moreover, ETP’s ELEC filing (which has still not been approved) reveals that it will raise (and spend) $100,000 in the fall of 2022 and another $200,000 in 2023, with 90% of its funding to be raised in New Jersey.  The NJEA is perhaps the only organization with that kind of money with an active interest in influencing school boards across the state.
  • ETP’s work aligns very well with the NJEA’s own extensive efforts to win school board elections and adds the ubiquitous dark-money element to it, allowing the NJEA to disguise its involvement in districts where that might be a detriment.

Until Sunlight sees evidence to the contrary, we believe it is fair to conclude that the bulk — if not all — of ETP’s funding comes from the NJEA.

NEW JERSEY PUBLIC EDUCATION COALITION.  NJPEC was founded by a retired lawyer named Mike Gottesman from Wayne — NJEA President Sean Spiller’s original school district — with the goal of boosting progressive sex ed and social justice curricula at school boards and opposing the members/parents who disagree.  Gottesman originally only had a private Facebook group backed by a GoFundMe effort.  Now it has a top-notch website, a large advisory board, statewide reach, a slick logo, an ActBlue donation platform, a Twitter page and the ability to issue press releases.  Quite an upgrade.

And NJPEC immediately tied into the NJEA’s network of allies.  On Twitter, NJPEC provided a school board campaign training session run by long-time NJEA ally Action Together New Jersey (ATNJ), which NJPEC describes as “our partner.” The NJEA’s Cindy Matute-Brown is on ATNJ’s Board of Trustees.

Gottesman looks like just the kind of bomb-thrower the NJEA might seek for intimidation purposes. He disparages the school board members/parents who oppose his progressive agenda as “right-wing extremists” (the NJEA also labeled activist parents “extremists”) and falsely claimed to the Star-Ledger that: “The other side has hundreds of millions of dollars being donated to them in the state of New Jersey.”  Hundreds of millions of dollars?  This is obviously false, and Gottesman provides no evidence to support his claim.  Sunlight is surprised the Star-Ledger let him get away with such an blatant and unsupportable falsehood.

Thus Gottesman and NJPEC look like just the right kind of people to provide legal muscle in school board fights.  A friend of Sunlight’s sent us a NJPEC press release where Gottesman threatened to sue the Millstone BOE.  Here’s the crux of the matter:

If the [progressive] curriculum is not reinstated, ethics violations will be filed and the BOE will have no choice but to pay the legal fees to fight off ethics complaints and after that lawsuits.”

Apparently with its NJEA backing, NJPEC has all the money it needs to execute its legal threats.  Not so with small-town BOEs like Millstone, which must rely on property tax levies and will likely shy from such legal expenditures.  This is a blatant attempt to intimidate the Millstone BOE and impose a progressive education agenda on Millstone schools.

The combination of NJEA double-dark money, ETP, NJPEC and their integration into the NJEA’s vast network of allies opens a new front in the NJEA’s continuing battle to control school boards across the state and impose a progressive agenda on schools and kids.

So, New Jersey parents, when you see the New Jersey Public Education Coalition in action, know that the NJEA is seeking to control what is taught to your kids in your schools.  Not content to be a professional association of teachers, the NJEA seeks to impose its progressive education agenda on students and will attack any parents who oppose them. 

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