Mayor and Husband of Education Villain Michelle Rhee Scrutinized for Financial Malpractice

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Common Dreams

Mayor and Husband of Education Villain Michelle Rhee Scrutinized for Financial Malpractice

Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson, agrees to pay $37,500 for failing to report $3.5 million in donations; Larger fines pending

by
Common Dreams staff

Mayor Kevin Johnson and his wife, former chancellor of the DC public school system Michelle Rhee. Johnson is facing increased scrutiny over his repeated infractions of financial disclosure rules, especially as they involve education initiatives tide to his wife's work.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, husband of Michelle Rhee, a bitter foe of teachers' unions and champion of privatization, voucher legislation and for-profit management of charter schools, has been fined $37,500 for failing to report more than $3.5 million in donations he solicited for various non-profits, including his own education initiative, Stand Up.

Some of the $3.5 million was used for other education initiatives including Teach for America, where Rhee once worked, according to Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post.

The discovery of the disclosure infractions was made after reporting by the Sacramento Bee discovered seemingly unacknowledged donations surrounding Johnson's initiative to build a new sports arena in the city. Further looking found further cause for concern.

Among the donations Johnson secured was $500,000 from the Walton Family Foundation, operated by the founders of Wal-Mart, though he failed to properly document the gift.

After losing her job in public education, Rhee continued her national campaign for corporate-style school reform under the banner of new group she started, called Students First. Education experts critical of Rhee's approach note the name of advocacy group is deeply ironic given that its policy proposal do little to serve the interest of students, but much to please the for-profit school industry.

Johnson's school initiative, for its part, follows the policy outlines prescribed by groups such as Rhee's, calling for more charter schools, high-stakes testing, and controversial "school choice" policies in Sacramento's public schools.

Johnson has agreed to pay the fine imposed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports.

The Tribune reports that in 25 cases, Johnson failed to report "behest payments" — donations to a nonprofit made at the request of an elected official — within the required 30 days.

Johnson's fine is believed to be one of the largest handed out by the commission against an elected official for actions not campaign-related, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Johnson's "reliance on the behest model has created some unusual partnerships," The Bee reported.

A Bee report in September revealed that nearly $400,000 in donations to the mayor's arena task force came via the Sacramento Kings, who at the time were negotiating with the city over the terms of the arena financing plan. The Kings donations originated with an arrangement secured by the mayor that stipulated that 10 percent of corporate sponsorships to the team would be funneled to [his organization] Think Big.

Those donations were reported after the arena deal fell apart and well past the state's reporting deadline, catching the attention of the FPPC.

 
 
 

Rhee remains the subject of a federal investigation into cheating during her tenure in the DC school system. In 2010, she incurred the wrath of teachers' unions when she fired nearly 250 teachers and principals in the DC school system with no due process.

In July, Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist Dave Lindorff wrote that during her tenure as DC chancellor, Rhee "promoted friends and lackeys to positions of responsibility and high pay, ignored parent opinions... and, allegedly, oversaw what may have been an epic program of cheating on school assessment tests."

According to the Post, the commission's investigators said Johnson told them his failure to report donations was not intentional, and that his administration has addressed faulty procedures to ensure compliance in the future.

The full FPPC is scheduled to hear the case next week to determine if the fine is sufficient, The Bee reports. The maximum fine he faces is $125,000.

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