By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In her bid to win House district 74, Republican Charlotte Meadows has received a $100,000 loan to bolster her campaign, according to her major contributions report filed June 19, 2013. A political campaign watcher says this is a large infusion of cash for a special House election.
District 74 came into play when Representative Jay Love (R-Montgomery) decided to vacate his seat before the end of his term. Love, the chairman of the House Education Ways and Means Committee, said that he was leaving his post to enter into “education” advocacy.
Perhaps coincidentally, Meadows is a lobbyist employed by StudentsFirst, a school choice advocacy group founded by charter school lobbyist Michelle Rhee. Meadows is also a former member of the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Meadows, along with Rhee and Love, pushed to bring about the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) that opened the door for charter schools in the state.
StudentsFirst says its mission is to “defend the interests of children in public education and pursue transformative reform.” However, the group has come under harsh criticism for its lobbying efforts for charter schools while operating as a nonprofit.
The website, Crooks and Liars, writes, “if ever there was an organization that stands out as one that should never have been granted nonprofit status and doesn’t deserve to continue having it, it’s StudentsFirst. One look at their 2011 tax disclosures reveals a fat, political and ideological organization. StudentsFirst not only crosses the line, they stomp on it and erase it for their own benefit.”
A 2012 report in Salon said “StudentsFirst… spent heavily on ballot measures [in 2012], including… $250,000 to support a successful Georgia measure decreasing local control over charter schools and…at least $427,000 on Tennessee state elections.”
Larry Lee, an education advocate and former Director of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries’ Center for Rural Alabama, said of Meadows’s campaign, “I’ve been around a lot of political campaigns over the last 40 years and certainly understand the importance of adequate funding. While having $100,000 is great, what is always most impressive and most meaningful to me is support a candidate is getting from the folks who will vote in their election. You can go back and look at campaign disclosure forms for George Wallace and see that he was a master at getting small contributions from a great many people.”
So far, Meadows has only raised around $10,000 from individual donors. However, she is said to have the support of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.
In February, just before the passage of the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, StudentsFirst contributed to Mike Hubbard’s Storm PAC.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “StudentsFirst has its own political action committee (PAC), its own SuperPAC and a staff of 75, including a cadre of seasoned lobbyists.”
In fact Michelle Rhee registered as a lobbyist in Alabama right before the passage of the AAA. Meadows has served as Rhee’s go to person in Alabama along with J. Davis “Dave” Stewart III, who was former Governor Bob Riley’s chief of staff during his second term. As Alabama outreach director for StudentsFirst, Meadows has crossed sword with many educators in Montgomery.
Lee says he believes that grassroots support is far more important than big money and points to the recent defeat of Indiana superintendent of education, Tony Bennett. Republican incumbent Bennett was “the darling of the charter school and voucher crowd, out spent his Democrat opponent, a school librarian, by 10-1. But she had an incredible grassroots effort.”
The Govenor has yet to set a date for the election.