A school reform group with ties to StudentsFirst, the organization founded by the controversial former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school system, is pouring nearly $32,000 into the Oct. 2 Democratic primary for the 5th Assembly District seat.
The group which calls itself the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance notified the state Elections Enforcement Commission that it plans to spend $31,997 on behalf of Brandon McGee.
McGee, 28, is vying for the Democratic nomination against Leo Canty, a Windsor resident and vice president of the second largest teachers union in the state.
The money, according to the group, will be spent making phone calls and knocking on doors for the next four days in an effort to get out the vote in a race which ended in a tie on Aug. 14. After two recounts and a lawsuit, a judge ordered a revote on Oct. 2.
Since the public campaign finance law utilized by both candidates during the primary never anticipated a tied election, there are no additional fundraising opportunities for the candidates from that program. But the law doesn’t prohibit outside groups from making independent expenditures on behalf of a candidate.
Liam Sweeney, McGee’s campaign manager, said he learned of the expenditure through Twitter, an online social network. He said he had no idea the group would be contributing to his candidate.
“It’s an exorbitant amount of money for a state House race,” Sweeney said.
In fact, it’s more than candidates receive under the campaign finance law for the entire primary.
Sweeney said McGee did fill out an application for support from the organization during the primary, but never anticipated it would result in such a large contribution so late in the process. He suspected the donation may be about trying to “squeeze two candidates into a larger issue,” but a spokeswoman for the organization said that’s not the case.
“The state has made great progress in the past year toward enacting common sense policies that put the needs of kids first. Brandon McGee is the kind of candidate who will continue that work so that all kids can attend great schools staffed by great educators,” Jeri Powell, GNEPSA‘s Connecticut organizer, said.
Canty, vice president of AFT Connecticut, wasn’t shy about saying he opposes the group and what he believes is their effort “to destroy our public education system, and replace it with a system of privatized charter schools that leave behind our most vulnerable and at-risk kids.”
He emailed supporters to let them know about the donation Thursday night.
“The rich backers of groups like Students First and GNEPSA seek nothing less than the destruction and privatization of public services. They are for profit above everything,” he said in the email.
GNEPSA has been actively making independent expenditures to other state races this year including the Democratic primary between Tom Reynolds of Ledyard and Sprague First Selectwoman Cathy Osten. It spent more than $42,000 in that race in order to try to defeat Osten, who is the president of her union in the state Department of Correction. Osten won the primary and now faces Chris Coutu in the Nov. 6 election for Sen. Edith Prague’s seat.