02.06.17

Whitehouse on Education Secretary Nominee Betsy DeVos

Mr. President, I wish to add a few Rhode Island voices to the voice of the Senator from Minnesota. By the way, I am not cherry-picking my correspondence to find the rare letters in opposition to this nominee. We have had an unprecedented avalanche of opposition to this nominee. It is running well more than 100 to 1 against her, and it is people from all walks of life.

Here is a letter from William, a 12th grader in Pawtucket, RI. William took the trouble to write to me. Let me start with the topic line: “Concern over Betsy DeVos.”

Hello, Senator Whitehouse!

My name is William and I am a senior at Blackstone Academy Charter School, a public charter school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I am contacting you today due to my concern about educational equality, specifically Betsy DeVos' ability to commit to practices that ensure that the children who need the most help aren't forgotten about and brushed under the rug. These children are our kids of color, as well as our low-income kids attending urban public schools with limited resources.

Having attended a Pawtucket public school, I can confidently say that there are some genuinely brilliant minds here in this very city, in the areas where somebody like Mrs. DeVos would least expect. Yet it also cannot be denied that the students here begin their journey on ground that is unequal to that of other kids who are not people of color, or are not part of the public school system, etc. These bright young saplings are being crushed before they are given the chance to blossom, and that is a systemic problem that DeVos , given her various shortcomings, will only serve to perpetuate and make worse.

DeVos , given her support of the privatization of public schools and her open disdain towards the LGBTQIA community, has established that she will not improve the experiences of marginalized communities. Her interest is not the betterment of education for people, but the monetization of education to put money in her pockets and the pockets of people like her. DeVos will never spearhead movements that promote equity in education and will continuously disappoint us all throughout her term which will not be defined by deviating from the status quo and creating a system that our troubled but gifted youth can thrive in. In fact, she will do the opposite.

With this in mind I ask that you, Senator Whitehouse, openly speak out against Betsy DeVos , and do everything in your power to keep her out of the Secretary of Education office. I also ask that you continue to remember me and children like me; public school youth who could be incredible if they are just given the opportunity to thrive.

Thank you for your time!

William.

Now let's hear from Da-naijah, a 10th grader from Central Falls, RI.

Dear Senator Sheldon Whitehouse,

My name is Da-naijah, and I am in 10th grade at Blackstone Academy School which is a public charter school. I live in Central Falls, RI. I'm writing today because I'm concerned about kids being able to afford college, regardless of background. I care about this because I have plenty of family members and friends who go to public school, and they either want or are trying to go to college. I know they will need help with paying for college because they don't come from a very wealthy background. Fair and equal education is so important to me because I think everyone should be treated fairly regardless of how they look because we are humans. I am concerned about Betsy DeVos being nominated for Secretary of Education because she doesn't have any experience with classrooms. Also because she basically doesn't like public schools since she is trying to make public school private and is trying to take resources away from public schools. With that being said, I hope that you do everything you can to help the kids in public school get equal education and fair education as much as private schools do. Please read my email when you can and I would like to thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Da-Naijah

Next is Sara. She also lives in the city of Central Falls.

I am writing today because I'm concerned about the education in the public schools in my city. The students in Central Falls are not given the education they deserve in the environment of Central Falls as of schools in other districts. This is important to me because my younger brother is a disabled boy, and it worries me that he won't continue to get the education he deserves. I'm very concerned about the nominee Betsy DeVos because she has 0 experience in the role of Secretary of Education and there are videos on almost any social media as well as YouTube to prove it and it clearly shows she has no experience and will put our education, or I'll say “future” at risk. Please Senator I hope you can do everything you can to prevent her nomination. ..... Thank you!

 Sincerely,

Sara

The last one I will read is from Jennyfer, 10th grade at Blackstone Academy Charter School, from Pawtucket.

I'm writing today because I'm concerned about students in public schools not receiving the same and fair education students in charter and private schools have. I care about students in public schools because I want every student to have the privilege of receiving fair and equal education as I have the chance too.

Fair and equal education is so important to me because I'm a Latina and a woman of color, I deserve the same equal and fair education as every other individual. I want my siblings who go to a public school to receive the same education and resources I get.

I am concerned about Betsy DeVos [that she] will take that privilege away from students in public schools.

I hope you do everything you can to prevent Betsy DeVos from taking this privilege away from students in public schools.

Thank you for your time!

There are more letters that I could read, but one point I would like to make is that these are students writing from charter schools. In the flood of opposition from Rhode Island that we have seen to this nominee, it has included teachers, managers, and students in charter schools. There has been a notion developed that this is a battle between public schools and charter schools and that public schools aren't good, but they want to trap children in them; that charter schools are the way out; and that Mrs. DeVos will lead us off into that charter school happy land.

The fact is, it is not that simple. We have great charter schools in Rhode Island, and we have some great public schools in Rhode Island. We have both. The charter school leaders are opposed to her nomination. Why is that? It is in part because the transition from charter to public schools can be done fairly or it can be done unfairly. In all of her work, Mrs. DeVos has shown that she would do it unfairly.

There is an obvious--what demographers would call--selection bias between the kids who turn up in a charter school that they have to select to go into and the kids who are still in the public school that is left behind.

The selection bias is based on all sorts of different reasons. It could be as simple as they have more engaged parents. The parents are interested enough in their education to take the trouble to sign them up for the charter school, and that creates a slightly different demographic than the ones who are left behind. It helps the charter school population, and it makes it easier for the charter school.

Charter schools have authority that public schools don't have with respect to discipline; indeed, the ability to remove children and return them to the public schools. They are able to force students to sign contracts and agreements regarding their behavior. Public schools can't do that. Again, that confers an advantage on the charter school that a public school doesn't have.

Children with disabilities often get immense support through the public school system. When they try to go to the charter school, they see that the supports for the children with disabilities aren't there, and so it doesn't make sense to move to a charter school. The charter schools tend to get a smaller population of children with disabilities. They don't have that additional expense of dealing with and meeting a child wherever their abilities and disabilities are. The public school keeps that expense.

In Rhode Island, we have people flooding into Providence. We teach kids who speak something like 70 original languages in our Providence public schools. A new immigrant is going to go to the public school. That is where they go. It is going to take them time to get settled and to learn about

America and to pick up enough language to understand that a charter school exists, to make the choice to move their child there, and by the time they do, fine, if they make the choice. But, again, the public school had to be there for them; again, it is an advantage to the charter school.

It is all great for charter schools, but the idea that they are outperforming public schools and there is no recognition of that selection bias is just unfair to the public schools. It gets worse when you move from the selection bias on students to the funding because the way it often works and the way it works in Rhode Island is that the money follows the student. If you are in the public school and you are selected for a charter school, then a certain stipend of money goes with you to support that charter school.

The problem is that as that money gets taken out of the public schools' budget, the costs in the public school didn't follow you to the charter school. The money followed you to the charter school, but many of the costs remained. If one child leaves a public school classroom and goes to a charter school, you still have to turn the lights on, you still have to hire the teacher, you still have to heat the building, you have maybe one less pencil and one less piece of paper in the room, but those are tiny costs. The fixed costs remain.

That is a very serious threat to public schools. Anybody who truly supports the charter school movement, as our charter schools do, has to understand, first, the selection bias problem and understand that the testing and accountability has to be fair between public and charter schools and, second, this funding problem--that if you are simply pulling the money out of the public schools into charter schools and the costs are staying behind, what you are doing is crashing the revenues but leaving the expenses of public schools.

The public school students are going to suffer from that. If you don't adjust for it, you are being unfair to the public schools, and you are being unfair to the students. This is a serious enough problem that our Providence City Council is debating the issue right now and, as students move to charter schools, trying to figure out: How do you provide adequate funding so you are not stripping the public schools of what they need to continue to teach the other students? Not only are they serious about trying to figure out this budget equation at the city council level, but Moody's, the service that looks at municipal budgets and determines how sound they are and rates municipalities, has looked at this problem of charter school movement and the remaining costs in public schools and identified it as a fiscal threat to municipalities.

These are both real problems, and the refusal of Mrs. DeVos to grapple with them suggests to our charter school leaders and to me that this is not just an effort to enhance students in being able to go to a good charter school; this is actually an attack on public schools.

There are all sorts of reasons somebody might want to knock down public schools. One is that they simply don't like teachers unions. Teachers unions tend to vote Democratic, let's face it. If you want to cripple teachers unions, destroy the schools they work in. That is a really nasty reason to get into this charter school fight, but it is real, and it is out there.

A second is, if you want to bring for-profit investment into this space, a lot of money gets spent on education. People who could figure out how to make money in this space want to get their noses in and to get a chunk of that money. When they come in, they may or may not do a good job, but they are highly profit motivated. If you are interested in trying to facilitate them and to give them a money making opportunity, then you may well want to damage public schools in order to support their move to for-profits.

This creates a fairly significant problem when you connect it to the next piece of Mrs. DeVos's application. That is conflict of interest. One of the basic elements that we are here to look at in our advice and consent process is conflict of interest. Will the nominee be able to do a fair job? Will she be looking at things fair and square or will she have conflicts of interest that impede the fair exercise of her judgment?

One place that we need to look for conflict of interest is when we have nominees who have run political dark money operations. This is a new thing for us. Not too long ago we swore in a new President--President Barack Obama. When we did, we had ethics rules, government ethics offices, filing requirements, and all of that in place. That was 2008. Then came the Citizens United decision--one of the worst decisions that five Justices on the Supreme Court have ever made, and it opened up the floodgates of dark money.

This nominee is a practitioner of the dark arts of dark money. We know nothing about what she has done, but the conflicts of interest ought to be pretty obvious. If you raised millions of dollars from people in your dark money operation, then there is an indebtedness there that somebody might think could be an appearance of impropriety or conflict.

We should know so that evaluation can be made. Or if you spent dark money in support of certain things, we should know so that we can connect the dots and evaluate the linkages and see whether it is a conflict of interest.

We wrote to Mrs. DeVos about this. The first letter was January 5, 2017. We got an answer, and the answer was spectacularly incomplete and unhelpful. So we wrote a second letter on January 27. I wish to take a minute and read this letter because I think it explains our predicament.

Elisabeth DeVos

Trump-Pence Transition Team

Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC

Dear Mrs. DeVos,

Thank you for your response of January 17, 2017, to our January 5, 2017 letter--

Mr. President, let me ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the letter at the end of my remarks.

Thank you for your response of January 17, 2017, to our January 5, 2017 letter requesting additional information on your vast political fundraising and spending network. Along with various responses and objections to our request, you produced a series of already public campaign finance reports related to the American Federation for Children Action Fund, a 527 organization, and its various State affiliates. For the reasons that follow, we view your response as, while sizable, nonresponsive.

We requested you provide information about two 501(c)(4) organizations with which you have been associated: the American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Fund. You acknowledged your association with these entities in your disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). You also acknowledged in your letter to us that “[e]ach organization with which [you] have been involved is independent.” It is not clear what you mean by “independent” since you have already acknowledged your association with these organizations. I hope you can appreciate how both fundraising and spending of these organizations (from whom? to whom? in what amounts? your personal role?) might produce conflicts of interests in potential decisions if you are confirmed to serve as Secretary of the Department of Education.

Our concerns are not hypothetical as known contributors to your political organizations have had business before Department of Education. For example:

Vahan Gureghian: In 2010, Gureghian donated $100,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. Mr. Gureghian founded and is the CEO of CSMI LLC, a Pennsylvania charter school management company and helped found the Chester Community Charter School. He has been a major donor in promoting charter schools in Pennsylvania.

I will interrupt reading the letter for a moment to point out how obvious it is that somebody involved in the charter school movement could very easily have business before the Department of Education. Who knows how much he gave? We know of about $100,000, but it could be a lot more. He knows. She knows, but the public won't know. When bids or competitions are up, that is simply not fair.

On to the next one and back to the text of the letter:

J.C. Huizenga: Between 2005 and 2007, Huizenga donated $25,000 to All Children Matter, and in 2010 he donated $30,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. Mr. Huizenga founded the National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter network that has 80 schools in 9 States and has received over $43 million in federal funding. According to a 2012 review by the Michigan Department of Education of the schools in the “focus” category, due to significant gaps in achievement, more than half were managed by National Heritage Academies. It has been reported that Mr. Huizenga said that his involvement with charter schools was due to realizing that “privatizing public education was not only practical but also desperately needed.”

Again, to step back out from the letter, here is somebody who is in the for-profit charter school business, whose charter schools are more than half of the troubled charter schools reviewed by the Michigan Department of Education and who wants to privatize public education. He is linked with her through the dark money operation. We don't know anything about the dark money side.

David L. Brennan: Brennan donated a total of $200,000 to All Children Matter from 2004 to 2007, prior to AMC's wind down due to campaign finance violations.

This is a series of campaign violations, finance violations, that led to the $5 million fine that neither the entity nor Mrs. DeVos have ever paid.

In 2010, he donated $39,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. He is the founder of White Hat Management LLC, a for-profit charter school management company that operates 15 schools in three states with over 12,000 students. Since 2008, Whitehat and its affiliates have received $3.6 million in federal funds including IDEA funds.

How are we ever going to know if people like this--who are making big, dark money contributions into the dark money operation that she runs--will not be rewarded in a pay-to-play fashion with grants and favors and an advantage in competition at the Department of Education? You would ordinarily evaluate that by knowing that the conflict of interest existed. But because it is dark money, we will never know.

They will know. She will know, but the public will never know. The Senate will never know. The press will never know.

While you may not have a direct financial interest in the for-profit education enterprises headed by those listed above, your political fundraising relationship with them, and perhaps others, could cause a reasonable person concern over your impartiality in matters involving them.

Let me step out of the letter again. Doesn't that make sense? If you were applying for a grant before the Department of Education and your competitor was somebody who had given $1 million to Mrs. DeVos's Action Fund, wouldn't you want to know that? Don't you think the public should know that? If you were to find out later that had taken place, and they were awarded the grant and you were not, wouldn't that rankle you a bit? Wouldn't that suggest to you that perhaps we are not being treated fairly because of that big contribution that was made? But we will never know. We are disabled from doing our constitutional job of reviewing these nominees for conflict of interest when it is dark money that is at stake.

The OGE process does not capture conflicts that arise through political activity. .....

This is the first transition of Presidents since the Citizens United decision. This is the first one; so there is no history. We have to do it now, but we are not--not for this nominee, not for other nominees. We are leaving a black hole of secrecy around this enormous conflict of interest potential.

The OGE process does not capture conflicts that arise through political activity so it is incumbent upon us to assure the Senate record is complete as to such conflicts and how they will be resolved.

These are just the publically known examples of potential conflicts. Our original request asked you for information to assess potential conflicts with 501(c)(4) organizations that are not required to publicly disclose donor information. Accordingly, we reiterate our request that you provide:

A list of all donors, their total donations, and affiliations, who have contributed to the American Federation for Children 501(c)(4), and the Great Lakes Fund 501(c)(4) since their inception.

A list of donations made by you, members of your family, and foundations or organizations with which you are affiliated, to other 501(c)(4) organizations over the past five years.

That seems like a perfectly reasonable request.

According to the American Federation for Children's IRS Form 990 filed for the year 2014, it spent nearly $1.1 million on political activities, including a $315,000 transfer to the American Federation for Children Action Fund, Wisconsin IE Committee.

I think most people here know how this works, but to make it clear for people listening, many political organizations require that the donors be disclosed. So if you want to engage in the dark money game and hide your political influence-seeking, what you do is you take your money and you give it to a 501(c)(4), a dark money operation. Then they in turn give it to the political action group. That is what happened here. $1.1 million into the American Federation for Children, $315,000 transferred to the American Federation for Children Action Fund in Wisconsin. The only function that provides is to launder the identity of who the donor was. So that all you see is the money emerging from the dark money organization, with no transparency as to who put it in.

Because donations to a 501(c)(4) are anonymous, they effectively launder the identities of donors to the other parts of the political apparatus. But you know, and the donors know, and therein lies the potential for conflict of interest. Additionally, you refused to disclose donations to 501(c)(4) organizations that you, your family and your foundation have made. You explained, “(t)he information request requested has no bearing on the office to which I have been nominated nor the duties of the Department of Education.”

That was her answer to the first letter. Our letter here continues:

Your donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are indeed relevant to your nomination, just as your donations to political candidates, parties and causes are. One obvious instance would be where groups to which you have made political contributions are before the Department as advocates or grant seekers. Again, you know and the donors know, and therein lies the potential for conflict of interest. Senators have a Constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on Presidential nominees, and understanding the scope and nature of potential conflicts of interest is at the heart of that duty.

I do hope that we can agree on that in this Body: That part of our advice and consent role is to understand the potential for conflicts of interest. If we can't agree on that, then we have a real problem here, because that is the purpose or at least one purpose of what we do.

Your role in raising and distributing “dark money” clearly raises the possibility of such conflicts. As a result, we renew our request for information related to your 501(c)(4) organizations as outlined above.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this request. We look forward to your additional information and disclosures and timely and responsive answers.

Well, as of today, what we have is no answer at all--no answer at all. This is a recurring problem here. This business of dark money not being caught by the rather obsolete, in that respect, government ethics reporting conventions that have been carried forward from the Obama transition before all of this became a problem doesn't just apply to Mrs. DeVos.

Secretary of State Tillerson, as CEO of ExxonMobil, ran a massive dark money operation. ExxonMobil has money all over front groups that deny climate change, all over political groups to try to discourage action on climate change, and a lot of it is dark money. There has been reporting that traces it back to Exxon, but we never know how much because it is dark money, and Mr. Tillerson hasn't told us one thing about it in his hearing.

We will be considering shortly the nomination of Scott Pruitt as the EPA Administrator. Scott Pruitt ran a dark money operation as the attorney general of Oklahoma. Why would an attorney general want to run a dark money operation in the first place? That is a whole separate question--but he did. It was called the Rule of Law Defense Fund, and what it did was it took in money, prevented the donors from having their identities revealed, and then funneled the money publicly to the Republican Attorneys General Association. It was an identity laundering machine for the Republican Attorneys General Association for big donors who didn't want anybody to know who the source was of the money that was being funneled into the Republican Attorneys General Association. That is fine, I guess. I would like to be rid of all of it. We should pass the DISCLOSE Act and clean this mess up. But for sure, when somebody who has run a dark money operation comes before the Senate seeking to be nominated to a Cabinet office, we hold a constitutional duty to protect that office from improper conflicts of interest. Surely, then, their role in the dark money operation should be disclosed.

It only makes sense. But, no, like Mrs. DeVos , absolute stonewall on any information related to the Rule of Law Defense Fund and Mr. Pruitt's dark money operation, a black hole of secrecy and enormous opportunity for conflict, because obviously, given his background and given where the rest of his fundraising went, you can draw a reasonable conclusion about where the dark money came from: Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, Murray Coal--the usual suspects. That is where a lot of his other money came from. You have to believe it went here. But do we know that? No. He could have taken $1 million from one of those groups and then, as EPA Administrator, be ruling on an application of theirs and we would not know. Please don't anyone tell me that is not a potential conflict of interest. I mean, we can deal with alternate facts around here, but that is just crazy.

We don't know about Mrs. DeVos's dark money. We don't know about Tillerson's dark money. We don't know about Pruitt's dark money. It is as if there has been an understanding--some secret handshake around here--that nobody will allow dark money information into the nomination process. That is just wrong. That is just wrong. It infects this nomination of Mrs. DeVos . We have to get answers to these questions.

Let me move on to one other point: student college debt. I had a meeting recently. I think all of us had the same experience. From our home States, groups come to visit us and to get our time and to bring our attention to problems that concern them. I think we all get visits from the same groups. We get visits from our community bankers from our home States. We get visits from our credit unions in our home States. We get visits from the automobile dealers in our home States. We get visits from the insurance brokers in our home States. We get visits from the Realtors in our home States.

When the Realtors of Rhode Island came in to visit me the last time, they raised a new issue that I had not heard before from them. The issue that they raised was this: You know, we are starting to have a real problem financing houses for the next generation of home buyers, the young home buyers who are coming into the market and who would ordinarily be buying their starter homes. The problem we are finding with them is that they are so loaded up with college debt that we can't finance the purchase of a home for them.

That is how enormous the student loan debt problem is in this country. It is now preventing so many young people from buying a home that the Realtors have noticed and put it on their problem list as something for us to take action on.

If the Realtors have noticed this, I don't think it is asking too much for a nominee for Secretary of Education to have noticed this. If, in fact, she has noticed this, I don't think it is asking too much for her to have thoughts and a plan, because we are well over $1 trillion in debt for these kids. I think it is about $1.3 trillion now. It has been a known problem for some time. Over and over again, Democrats have tried to find and propose solutions here in the Senate. Over and over again, we have been shot down. But it remains a very considerable issue.

You would think that a new Secretary of Education coming in would want to hit the ground running on this issue. She would have something she wanted to get done to solve it. There would be a plan or an outline. We may not agree with it, it may be something that we have to work together to find a way to get it to the floor, but at least there would be a starting point. All I got was, well, I would be interested in your views on that issue. How is it possible that with over $1 trillion in student debt piled up, with the student debt problem so severe that even Realtors have put it on their to-do list to get something done about it, that a nominee for the Secretary of Education has nothing? Pockets out. Nothing to get started on this problem. Is she ever going to take an interest? I don't know.

But it would seem to me, particularly when you look at where we are in the HELP Committee--our ranking member, Senator Murray, is here. Senator Murray and Chairman Alexander helped lead us together through the ESSA, the reform of No Child Left Behind, the Every Student Succeeds Act. It passed roaring through the Senate. The House even picked it up and took it. It came out of committee unanimously. States are still working on implementation of it because it freed them up to do a lot more things, and so they have to go through the process of deciding how they are going to take advantage of its new freedoms. So with respect to elementary and secondary education, we are actually in pretty good shape. All we have to do is implement the bipartisan popular law that we passed. So where is the attention going to be? Well, what we have not passed is the Higher Education Reform Act.

So if you know at all that has been going on in education in the Congress, which is not asking too much of a Secretary of Education nominee, you know that we have just implemented a major reform of elementary and secondary education, that our next order of business is higher education, and that an elemental part of that is going to be college debt.

So the fact that this nominee has nothing on that issue and is in the traditional deer-in-the-headlights-nominee mode of, well, I look forward to working with you on that Senator. Oh, yes, I understand that is a serious problem, Senator, but actually I don't have any ideas; I don't have any plans; I don't have any strategy; I have nothing. Let's just work together on it. That is not very convincing to me.

I see the Senator from New Jersey here. The night is going on, so I will yield the floor to him, but I will close by saying that this recurring question about nominees who are involved in dark money operations and then refuse to disclose anything about their dark money operations so that it remains a black hole of secrecy and potential conflict of interest is wrong. It is just wrong.

I know there are forces in this building that love the dark money, and there are huge special interests behind the dark money. There are a lot of people who benefit from the dark money who don't want any light on it ever. But once a nominee has had their name put in for a Cabinet position of the Government of the United States, by God, they ought to disclose their dark money connections because otherwise it is an avenue toward conflict of interest. Where there is conflict of interest, there comes scandal. It is our job to head that off by getting the information before the public so everybody can evaluate it, and we have been knee-capped in that effort by an absolutely positive shutdown from the other side of the aisle on any information about any dark money from any nominee.

They don't have to be nominees. If they don't want to cough up their dark money information, they can turn the papers back in and tell President Trump: Find someone else. I would rather keep my secrets.

But you should not keep your secrets and get the job.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

January 27, 2017.

ELISABETH DEVOS ,

Trump-Pence Transition Team,

Washington, DC.

DEAR MRS. DEVOS , Thank you for your response of January 17, 2017, to our January 5, 2017 letter requesting additional information on your vast political fundraising and spending network. Along with various responses and objections to our request, you produced a series of already public campaign finance reports related to the American Federation for Children Action Fund, a 527 organization, and its various state affiliates. For the reasons that follow, we view your response as, while sizeable, non-responsive.

We requested you provide information about two 501(c)(4) organizations with which you have been associated: the American Federation for Children and the Great Lakes Education Fund. You acknowledged your association with these entities in your disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). You also acknowledged in your letter to us that “[e]ach organization with which [you] have been involved is independent.” It is not clear what you mean by “independent” since you have already acknowledged your association with these organizations. I hope you can appreciate how both fundraising and spending of these organizations (from whom? to whom? in what amounts? your personal role?) might produce conflicts of interest in potential decisions before you if you are confirmed to serve as Secretary of the Department of Education.

Our concerns are not hypothetical as known contributors to your political organizations have had business before Department of Education. For example:

Vahan Gureghian: In 2010, Gureghian donated $100,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. Mr. Gureghian founded and is the CEO of CSMI LLC, a Pennsylvania charter school management company and helped found the Chester Community Charter School. (he has been a major donor in promoting charter schools in Pennsylvania.

J.C. Huizenga: Between 2005 and 2007, Huizenga donated $25,000 to All Children Matter, and in 2010 he donated $30,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. Mr. Huizenga founded the National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter network that has 80 schools in 9 states and has received over $43 million in federal funding. According to a 2012 review by the Michigan Department of Education, of the schools in the “focus” category, due to significant gaps in achievement, more than half were managed by National Heritage Academies. It has been reported that Mr. Huizenga said that his involvement with charter schools was due to realizing that “privatizing public education was not only practical but also desperately needed.”

David L. Brennan: Brennan donated a total of $200,000 to All Children Matter, from 2004 to 2007, prior to AMC's wind down due to campaign finance violations. In 2010, he donated $39,000 to the American Federation for Children Action Fund. He is the founder of White Hat Management LLC, a for-profit charter school management company that operates 15 schools in three states with over 12,000 students. Since 2008, White Hat and its affiliates have received $3.6 million in federal funds including IDEA funds.

While you may not have a direct financial interest in the for-profit education enterprises headed by those listed above, your political fundraising relationship with them, and perhaps others, could cause a reasonable person concern over your impartiality in matters involving them. The OGE process does not, capture conflicts that arise through political activity so it is incumbent upon us to assure the Senate record is complete as to such conflicts and how they will be resolved.

These are just the publicly known examples of potential conflicts. Our original request asked you for information to assess potential conflicts with 501(c)(4) organizations that are not required to publicly disclose donor information. Accordingly, we reiterate our request that you provide:

A list of all donors, their total donations, and affiliations, who have contributed to the American Federation for Children 501(c)(4) and the Great Lakes Education Fund 501(c)(4) since their inception.

A list of donations made by you, members of your family, and foundations or organizations with which you are affiliated, to other 501(c)(4) organizations over the past five years.

According to the American Federation for Children's IRS Form 990 filed for the year 2014, it spent nearly $1.1 million on political activities, including a $315,000 transfer to the American Federation for Children Action Fund--Wisconsin IE Committee. Because donations to a 501(c)(4) are anonymous, they effectively launder the identities of donors to the other parts of your political apparatus. But you know, and the donors know, and therein lies the potential for conflict of interest.

Additionally, you refused to disclose donations to 501(c)(4) organizations that you, your family, and your foundation have made. You explained, “[t]he information requested has no bearing on the office to which I have been nominated nor the duties of the Department of Education.” Your donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are indeed relevant to your nomination, just as your donations to political candidates, parties, and causes are. One obvious instance would be where groups to which you have made political contributions are before the Department as advocates or grant seekers. Again, you know, and the donors know, and therein lies the potential for conflict of interest. Senators have a Constitutional duty to provide advice and consent on presidential nominees, and understanding the scope and nature of potential conflicts of interest is at the heart of that duty. Your role in raising and distributing “dark money” clearly raises the possibility of such conflicts. As a result, we renew our request for information related to your 501(c)(4) organizations as outlined above.

Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this request. We look forward to your additional information and disclosures and timely and responsive answers.

Sincerely,

SHELDON WHITEHOUSE.

ROBERT P. CASEY, JR.

TAMMY BALDWIN.

BERNARD SANDERS.

AL FRANKEN.

ELIZABETH WARREN.