Fight over education funding gets personal

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A protracted debate over how to fix the least equitable state education funding formula in the nation has boiled over into personal attacks between Senate Democrats and the Governor’s office. 

Senator Andy Manar’s (D-Bunker Hill) bill to fix the funding formula passed the Senate with a near veto-proof majority. His bill contains a “hold harmless” provision which states no school district in Illinois should lose money under the new distribution of funds. In his words, “everyone gets more.” However, the latest amended version of Manar’s bill calls for a review of that hold harmless provision after a three year period, at which time the General Assembly could revisit the decision. 

On Friday morning, Manar led a group of Senate Democrats in a press conference accusing Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration of “leaking doctored government documents” to a politically-connected news service, which Manar alleges is “cozy with” some of Rauner’s top political donors, including the governor himself. 

The Kankakee Times circulated web articles which incorrectly claimed Kankakee County schools would get less money under the new formula. Democrats, Republicans and school board administrators familiar with the latest version of the bill have all agreed that Manar’s bill would not cut money to any school districts from Fiscal Year 2015 levels. 

After the publication was confronted with the inaccuracy, it buried a muddled disclaimer down toward the bottom of the page admitting the analysis was outdated. However, the online post still has not corrected the primary falsehood contained in the opening sentence, which incorrectly says the “Kankakee County schools would be the net losers of state funding under a bill that passed the Illinois State Senate Wednesday.”

Manar alleges this overt distortion of his bill is an underhanded attempt by the governor to kill his bill in the House before it reaches his desk. The governor’s office strongly denies this accusation. Spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis says, “One cannot leak something that is on a public website,” referring to the outdated analysis, which was evidently posted on the website of the Illinois State Board of Education last summer, and also appeared in some form on Reboot Illinois. 

Demertzis said about Senate Democrats, “Their false and outrageous accusations have been disproven, and they should apologize for manufacturing blatantly false accusations.”

Conservative radio talk show host Dan Proft, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Governor in 2010, now runs ‘Local Government Information Services,’ the group that distributed the inaccurate report. 

As recently as June of last year, Governor Rauner had donated $2.5 million to Dan Proft’s Liberty Principles political action committee. Dick Uihlein, a Wisconsin business owner, is the top donor to Liberty Principles, giving nearly $6.6 million. Ken Griffin, a hedge fund manager and Governor Rauner’s top donor, also poured $1.1 million into the political group.

Liberty Principles is required by law to disclose it’s donor list. The privately-owned ‘Local Government Information Services’ is not subject to the same transparency laws, which makes it difficult to discern exactly where it gets it’s financial backing.

Proft tells WCIA, “[My newspaper] isn’t ‘politically funded.’ It is privately funded by investors who are politically and civically concerned.”

Federal election law allows super PACs to raise unlimited donations, but prohibits any collusion or coordination between super PACs and political campaigns. FEC law also strictly prohibits any super PAC from donating directly to a political candidate. It does not, however, prohibit political candidates from donating to super PACs.