STAND for Children education PAC spends thousands supporting Whitson


STAND for Children education PAC spends thousands supporting Whitson

A local education nonprofit has spent thousands in the Metro Nashville School Board race. They’ve also done the same for House District 65. But just how much have they invested?

A political action committee and affiliated groups that have spent thousands on the Metro Nashville School Board race have also turned their attention to the House District 65 race, throwing more than $70,000 its way.

According to House District 65 candidate Sam Whitson’s second quarter campaign disclosure, his campaign received $5,000 from the STAND PAC of Tennessee.

The group is affiliated with the national education nonprofit STAND for Children, Inc., which has offices in 11 states, including branches in Nashville and Memphis. The 20-year old group advertises that it works to push for better education on a range of issues from pre-kindergarten, college and career readiness and the quality of schools – both public and charter.

STAND’s endorsement of Whitson offers not only just a contribution from its PAC, but from the STAND for Children, INC. Independent Expenditure Committee, which collected money from STAND for Children, INC., as well as businessmen and philanthropists John and Orrin Ingram of Nashville.

Mailers paid for by the committee have been circulating in District 65 mailboxes throughout the summer, either touting the conservatism of the challenger or questioning the integrity of the incumbent Rep. Jeremy Durham.

During the second quarter, the expenditure committee spent $64,330.25 on mailers and postage supporting Whitson, and an additional $4,522.94 on mailers about Durham.

Between STAND’s PAC donation and the money independent expenditure committee spent on mailing pieces, the group also spent $80,000 in polling. What they spent on polling for each race or candidate wasn’t broken down on the disclosure.

But from its disclosures, one figure is transparent – the Stand for Children investment into the House District 65 comes to nearly $74,000.

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Right now, STAND has spent thousands of dollars trying to unseat three of the Metro Nashville School Board incumbents, some of whom have been vocal about their disdain for charter schools. They didn’t invest any money in the Williamson County School Board race, which has more than 16 candidates running for seven spots.

The group has also backed four other state house candidates, who are running against Republican incumbents in the August primary.

“We aren’t looking for anything from them, but we try to identify education champions and support them now in the elections,” STAND Tennessee campaign field director Carter Lawrence said. “If they are elected, we will be holding them accountable to make sure they put kids first.”

When Whitson first threw in his bid to run for the state house back in January, he said he wasn’t beholden to any special interest groups. The Republican challenger noted that taking money from STAND doesn’t change that for him. But overall, he said had mixed feelings on PACs – some he agreed with their missions, while others he didn’t.

“They sought me out,” he said. “I appreciate their support. I don’t agree with 100 percent of their positions, but I am willing to listen and keep an open mind. They were supporting me when no one else would support this campaign against Jeremy Durham.”

In order for candidates to receive funding from the STAND PAC, they had to go through a formal process. First, the education nonprofit sent out surveys to every candidate they could find running across the state after the April 14 final deadline. Whitson returned his, while neither Durham or Democratic candidate Holly McCall responded.

Lawrence said the survey includes broad background questions including if the candidates had received any endorsements. The next step in the process was a phone interview with STAND’s committee.

“Some of the more specific questions asked what was their take is on testing, policy changes that they think are necessary to correct, their support for pre-K funding,” Lawrence said. “We asked where they stand on charter schools. Those are some of the big issues we hit on.”

STAND said they had no position on school vouchers, which created much debate last year in the state legislature. Some of the Williamson delegation supported the voucher measure. On the issue of charter schools, Whitson said he would want to leave that issue up to the local school boards.

“I understand charter schools are allowed under the state of Tennessee in our current law,” Whitson said. “I respect that, and I would like for local systems to decide if they want a charter school or not. STAND hasn’t asked me to do anything in particular, and I haven’t made promises. Their main concern is they want to make sure that the legislators are honorable and responsible people.”

The contribution was only one of two of the PACs who donated to the Whitson campaign.

Both Durham and McCall have a more diverse PAC portfolio rather than one primary driver.

In total, McCall has received $5,250 in PAC money from six different sources.

Durham, while not at the volume in fundraising of either of his opponents in the second quarter, received money from five different PACs totaling $4,520.

Whitson and Durham will face off in the Aug. 4 primary. The winner of that race will face McCall in November.

Emily West covers Franklin and Williamson County government and schools for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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