School reform on conference agenda

Conservative groups linked to Douglas County board campaign

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An annual conference for a national free-market think tank next week includes a session on Douglas County’s education reform controversy, linking high-powered, conservative groups to controversial school-district changes.

The State Policy Network’s online schedule of events lists “The Coalition Blueprint: Network to Win,” during which attendees would hear how “think tank, litigation, grassroots, investigative reporting and opposition research leaders formed a coalition in Douglas County, CO to fight a groundbreaking school choice battle,” the description reads. “Hear how they messaged their issue campaign, overcame an obstacle as big as the state teachers’ union and leveraged their combined networks to become a formidable force.”

Speakers scheduled for the Sept. 25 session include representatives of the Independence Institute and Americans for Prosperity,along with American Phoenix Foundation and the State Policy Network (SPN). All but SPN are documented players in Douglas County’s current school-board election campaign.

Representatives from the Independence Institute, Americans for Prosperity and American Phoenix Foundation did not return calls to Colorado Community Media requesting comment. 

SPN offered no details on the Douglas County-focused session, part of the “Stake Your Claim for Freedom” annual meeting.

“We don’t comment officially to media,” State Policy Network spokeswoman Jennifer Butler said. “I don’t want to comment on what they’re speaking about or not speaking about.”

Douglas County School District spokeswoman Michelle Yi said the district was unaware of the coalition or scheduled session.

The 21st SPN annual meeting was set for Sept. 24-27 in Oklahoma City.

The American Phoenix Foundation, described on its website as a nonpartisan education foundation that aims “to protect the American Republic through ethical, innovative, and technologically driven journalism,” is led by CEO Joseph Basel.

Basel, a featured speaker at the SPN session on Douglas County schools, is a partner with Texas-based C3 Strategies LLC. The address listed for C3 Strategies is the same as that shown on the Colorado Secretary of State registration for C3 Solutions, which lists its other name as DougCo Champions for Kids, a group supporting the current school board.

Officers listed for C3 Solutions/DougCo Champions include Damon Sasso and Michael Krause, both of the Independence Institute, and former conservative political activist Benjamin Wetmore. Sasso also is a featured speaker representing the Independence Institute at SPN’s Douglas County session.

Basel and Wetmore were figures in a 2010 incident nicknamed the Louisiana Watergate. Basel eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for entering Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office to allegedly record conversations. Basel and three other men charged in the incident stayed at Wetmore’s home days before the Landrieu incident.

The Independence Institute is helping to finance DougCo Champions for Kids’ campaign efforts, which include public meetings, surveys and campaign material distribution. A member of the libertarian think tank’s staff sat on DCSD’s Choice Task Force in 2010. The institute, referred to in an August Denver Post article as “the unapologetic Ivy League frat house of Colorado politics,” supports education vouchers and charter schools, and actively opposes recent gun-control efforts.

The Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, whose controversial parent organization has strong ties to right-wing causes, recently launched the “It’s Working” ad campaign support of Douglas County School District’s education reforms.

SPN is dedicated to “fighting to limit government and advance market-friendly public policy at the state and local levels,” according to its website.

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