PACs, Lies and Campaign Finance Reports

From the Official Desk of Diana Leygerman: An Official, Official Analysis

During the March 8, 2022, Central Bucks School District school board meeting, venture capitalist/sports gambling investor Paul Martino attempted to rehab his image — and the image of the school board candidates he bankrolled — by accusing the Democratic School Board candidates of being “in the pocket” of the teachers union and asking two sitting School Board Directors to recuse themselves from teacher contract negotiations. He supported his argument by presenting a poorly researched campaign finance report analysis full of half-truths, falsehoods, and accounting errors. After his stunt, the “let’s ban books” advocates ferociously applauded. Unsurprisingly.

Martino distributed his findings on an “Official White Paper,” a term typically reserved for actual official corporate/government documents. However, since “blog post” doesn’t sound as self-important, he chose to name his report a little something more “official,” although it’s actually a blog post.

At first, when I heard Paul Martino speak at our school board meeting about political campaign finance reports, (strange, since topics of political nature are typically not allowed by the Board, as stated in the past by former School Board Director, John Gamble), I planned on ignoring his little stunt. Then, my curiosity was piqued (yes, I do know what happened to the curious cat) by some of the astronomical numbers he mentioned, so I decided to peruse the very official documents, also known as blogs. I discovered several massive errors with the reporting, errors Paul Martino tried to present as facts. This, of course, was not at all surprising since one of my greatest takeaways from the last two years of school board meetings is that facts don’t matter to Martino’s assets.

Let’s Play A Game: Two Truths and Many, Many Lies.

The statements below are taken directly from Martino’s “official” reporting.

  1. Overall, the Democratic PACs raised a total of $122,767 for the November election.” Conclusion: False

First, we did not raise that much money. This is simply untrue. Second, he states we raised all our money “for the November election,” yet he is incorrectly counting everything we all raised for the entire election season, including the Primary Election.

2. “CBSD Neighbors United contributed over $50,000 to Bucks United.” Conclusion: True

3. “The Republican PACs, including Bucks Families for Leadership, raised a total of $94,518, and $4,700 came from other PACs, while $89,818 came from individual donors.” Conclusion: False by omission

Sure, if by “individual donors” he means primarily himself. The individual Republican PACs (Pepper’s, Bender’s, Ring’s) received donations from just 6 individuals and one PAC.

✔️3 people donated to Mr. Pepper; one of those people was Martino, who made an “in-kind” donation of $450.

✔️3 people and a PAC donated to Mr. Bender; one of those people was Martino, who donated $1,450, and the PAC was Martino’s Bucks Families for Leadership (BFFL), which donated $4,000.

✔️1 person donated to Mr. Ring. Surprisingly that one person was not Martino.

✔️Finally, BFFL, which was the joint PAC for all 5 candidates, raised $70,219. (60,219 FROM MR. MARTINO HIMSELF AND $10,000 FROM HIS BACK TO SCHOOL PA PAC*.)

✔️I am not including the Friends of Warrington PAC (Ms. Sciscio and Ms. Cannon) since those donations were likely for all local candidates running in the 2021 election, not just the school board candidates. However, it’s important to note that out of the $21,000(ish) in donations to the Friends of Warrington PAC, Paul Martino donated $8,000 and Bucks County Republicans donated $2,000.

4. “…it [CBSD Neighbors United] also paid Bucks United $998 to provide canvassers (door-knockers) for the school board candidates.” Conclusion: False

We didn’t pay for canvassers. What a strange assertion. I believe Bucks United paid for canvassers for all county and local candidates.

5. “This leads to several unanswered questions. Why did CBSD Neighbors United give over $50,000 to Bucks United? Did Bucks United provide any support to the school board candidates besides the canvassing?”

You could have just asked us, Paul. We are very transparent. We paid BU to help us with slate mailers since we are not professional politicians and — unlike the Republican candidates — didn’t have political consultants up our sleeve. That’s it. (Side note: Rhetorical questions like this are meant to create an illusion of ominous proceedings (See: Tucker Carlson), but trust me, nothing menacing here.)

This leaves us with one question: How many more lies lie in this report, Paul?

But wait, there’s more!

*Paul Martino’s Back to School PA PAC was primarily funded by Martino, the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund (run by Matthew Brouillette, the former head of Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank, and an anti-union network), and Students First PAC (run by Jeffrey Yass, a former professional gambler who supported the spread of disinformation about the 2020 election). One does not have to look too far to see very obvious parallels among all three men.

Obvious parallels and similar goals:

  1. Defund public education, or as they like to call it “School/Parental Choice” and,
  2. Eliminate teachers unions.

Perhaps we should ask all School Board directors funded by Paul Martino to recuse themselves from making any decisions regarding public schools.

Since I have very little interest in devoting any real time to Paul Martino’s calculated little stunt (outside of writing this piece), I did not want to analyze all of his “official” data, the data he pulled from the publicly available campaign finance reports. (All anyone has to do to get access to campaign finance reports is ask BOE or pull from the state website.)

Luckily, I didn’t have to spend any real time digging. The very first line on the very first page asserted I raised $13,747. When I saw that number, I actually laughed out loud. Intrigued and mildly confused, I looked over the breakdown of the donations for my individual PAC. I noticed one donation of $5,223. Since I know I didn’t have any donations in that amount, I pulled up my own finance reports. Of course, an error. Shocking, I know. The actual donation was for $52.23, clearly a simple case of a misplaced decimal. Or was it?

This leads to a serious question: Did Paul Martino make this mistake on purpose to inflate our donations? No one will ever know.

A few other observations:

  1. The Democratic Warrington First PAC was supporting many other local candidates, not only School Board Candidates, Rob and Jenine. So, to attribute all of those donations to Rob and Jenine is misleading at best.
  2. I definitely did not raise over $13,000. Probably closer to 6,500.
  3. The Neighbors United candidates raised more than we spent. The Republican candidates spent 15% more than they raised. And now three of them are on the school board handling a district with a $370 million budget. Ooof.

4. The Neighbors United candidates received approximately 170 individual donations from neighbors, families, friends, parents, students, and teachers. The Republican candidates received over 74% of their donations from one man: Paul Martino.

This leaves us with one more very official question: How many more errors would I find if I actually started digging further?

Let’s talk about PSEA-PACE.

Of course teachers and staff donated to our slate. We never hid that. We were always very open with our donations. How is this news to anyone?

When Martino wrote he was donating $500,000 of his own money to purchase school board races across PA to “open” already open schools, when he spent the summer of 2020 organizing performative town halls (in the middle of a pandemic) where he and the audience attacked our district and our district leaders, when he endorsed candidates who repeatedly blamed teachers and the union for “closing schools” during a pandemic, and when he used his PAC to smear Democratic candidates instead of focusing on real issues, PACE had virtually no choice but to help in a significant way.

Current SB Director criticizing teachers during a pandemic

When teachers watched in horror as Republicans attacked and attempted the destroy public education, and as they incited the book banning movement, they knew they had to stand up and defend their livelihood, their calling, and our kids. As a teacher myself, I wholly understand that sentiment, why would any educator support any candidate running to destroy public education? We, teachers, are the underdogs. We are not multi-millionaire venture capitalists with money to burn. Our contributions may be small but our hearts are huge.

We are grateful PACE trusted us and wanted us to win. They (and the majority of our community) knew we would make the best decisions for our children and our schools.

I truly don’t understand the hype here. (Well, I do, it’s all manufactured outrage, as always.) But since some people are very triggered, allow me to educate. (Get it?)

PSEA, also known as the teachers union, DID NOT DONATE TO US. To keep insinuating (all over social media) that they did is defamation.

PACE, however, is the Political Action Committee for Educators, and it supports friends of education in state and local elections. Contributions to PACE are voluntary. These are not union dues. PACE DID donate to us at the end of September after seeing the amount of money the R candidates received. They donated $27,500 for the November election. They also sent out postcards showing their support of our slate.

Finally, and I will say this louder for the people in the back, CB SCHOOL BOARD DIRECTORS DO NOT NEGOTIATE TEACHER CONTRACTS WITH THE UNION; THEY VOTE ON AN ALREADY NEGOTIATED CONTRACT. Perhaps Paul could have paid someone to research how contract negotiations work, or he could have simply asked the many friends he has sitting on the CBSD School Board.

This leaves us with several very official questions: Does Paul Martino not understand the difference between PSEA and PACE? Or, is he making this error on purpose to create a narrative that helps his goals of defunding public education and destroying the teachers unions? Does Paul Martino really not know that School Board Directors don’t actually negotiate teacher contracts? Or, is he once again using his platform to sow further division in our communities?

Let’s talk about “leveling the playing field.”

The Neighbors United candidates slated (meaning we came together as a group) shortly after the primary, and on July 7, 2021, Paul Martino announced he was donating half a million dollars to school board candidates across PA. Democratic candidates quickly realized they were going to be severely outspent and began working hard to fundraise. We raised nearly $28,000 from our very own community members. We worked nonstop, organizing meet-and-greets, fundraisers, and various other events. We phonebanked. We asked our friends, families, and coworkers. We asked perfect strangers on social media. We didn’t sit back and let ONE man hand us hundreds of thousands of dollars simply for existing and following his agenda. We worked.

Many who believed in us tried to “level the playing field” by donating to our campaign. Political action committees, like PACE, TBB, and others attempted to “level the playing field” when they saw unprecedented amounts of far-right-wing money flowing into school board races.

Paul Martino purchased our school board. That will always remain true no matter how much he wants to dispute it. His school board candidates were installed by him. Besides a few lone donors, Paul Martino single-handedly funded Republican candidates. Now, since he is so heavily personally involved in the Lieutenant Governor race, he is attempting to rehab his image from “hard-core Republican” who purchased school board candidates to “pissed off dad” who wants to purchase a Lieutenant Governor, Clarice Schillinger, the woman responsible for the Keeping Kids In School PAC.

Let’s Officially Conclude This

I would like to personally thank Paul. His stunt reminded me of how lucky I am to have run an honest campaign supported by so many incredible people and organizations. His “official” report reminded me of how many people loved the CBSD Neighbors United candidates and how many wanted us to be on the CBSD School Board. Hundreds of individual donations from community members, students, parents, guardians, teachers, staff, and administrators filled our hearts with love and hope. We were (and still are) so fortunate to have had the overwhelming support of our community (including winning the popular vote by over 1,000 more votes than the Republican candidates), and not just the support of one man willing to ruin the reputations of local parents who dared to run for school board on real issues and not fake “reopening” non-issues.

In his “official” report, Martino says, “Back to School PA was criticized for spending an unprecedented amount on school board elections and accused of taking and distributing “‘dark money.’” Well, it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that was hurtful for Martino to hear. So, he has tried to defend himself on numerous occasions, in posts and on social media, disputing the claim that his dark money funded this election. And, in true Martino fashion, instead of advocating for his assets and highlighting what they stand for, he chose to once again attack us by creating yet another false narrative. (It’s important to remind everyone that the entire “let’s ban books’’ crew applauded his “official” speech.)

I, for one, don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; so, I’d like to say maybe Martino is right, maybe his money isn’t dark. But it’s definitely dirty.

I understand it’s tough to know you’ve lost the popular vote. I realize it’s embarrassing to be out-fundraised by 5 parents in the district. I know it’s icky to know that hundreds of community members donated to CBSD Neighbors United and only a few family members and 3 friends donated to his candidates. But, it’s also sad to spend that kind of money on a school board election.

That money could have helped so many people in so many meaningful ways, yet Martino chose to throw it at his assets. And that, my friends, is the ultimate heartache.

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