The 1776 Project Money Airdrop
In the November 2021 elections, among the thousands of various local government positions up for grabs, nearly 400,000 students had their school boards turned upside-down by one political action committee—motivated by resentment about mask mandates, pandemic fatigue, and the critical race theory boogeyman.
If you’re a parent in any US public school district, odds are very good that you’ve had the opportunity to see some absolute craziness at your local school board meetings over the past year. If you didn’t like the crazy on display, I’ve got some very bad news for you: Those folks ran for school boards across the country, and a lot of them won. The reason that so many whackadoodles will be seated in school boards next year has very little to do with what they want to do to public schooling; it’s about money: more specifically, the direct connection between money spent and the number of voters that show up.
This election season, conservative political action committees used school board elections as a tool to keep angry voters angry and build momentum for the 2022 state and federal elections. This isn’t conspiracy theory; these PACs were saying the quiet part out loud for months leading up to the election. For a long time, masks and vaccines were useful tools for keeping voters riled up, but they shifted to critical race theory paranoia.
We are dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history. We are committed to abolishing critical race theory and The 1619 Project from the public school curriculum. -1776 Project PAC
Fight for Schools is a non-partisan political action committee focused on electing common sense candidates that commit to policies that support equal opportunity, tolerance, meritocracy and achievement.
Quiet 👏 Part 👏 Out 👏 Loud. 1776 Project even has a popup form for “reporting” schools promoting critical race theory, no evidence required! And then, with no irony, they claim “supporters of critical race theory hold political power as being more important than facts.”
It’s more than ironic to see what 1776 PAC did with the $300k spent through the end of September (the Q4 filings will be very interesting). They sent mailers and robocalls and text messages—lots of them. If you live in any of the 24 school districts they targeted for this election, you’ve probably seen some of it; everything from “vote for these pro-life candidates” to “these democrats want to turn your schools into Marxist dystopian hellholes.” It is, after all, a political action committee, whose sole purpose is acquiring political power.
The primary tools of a PAC are lobbying current elected officials, or channeling resources to the campaigns of candidates in hopes of turning them into elected officials. Over the summer, 1776 Project endorsed school board races and candidates in their mold; these local races are one of the last remaining nonpartisan positions in our civic life. The targeted races have a combined enrollment of over 388,000 students in above-average districts: median household income of $115,000, 77% home ownership, half the national poverty rate. These are not struggling schools or struggling communities; they’re home to award-winning schools and successful students.
Thanks to the Federal Election Commission, we know that this particular PAC raised $437,000 through the end of September 2021. Also thanks to the FEC, we know every individual donor that’s contributed above the reporting threshold amount — which means we also know where that money is coming from, geographically. (see map, below, or this map) You’d be shocked to learn that only 13% of the individual contributions come from people who live in one of the seven states. Of those, only two people live in one of the districts. For all the rest, and their $150,000 of named contributions, over half of the donors listed retiree as their occupation.
Let me spin that in the worst possible way you could interpret the data: A political action committee out of New York, started by a guy born and raised in New York City, has taken hundreds of thousands of donations from baby boomer retirees and funneled that money into airdrop get-out-the-vote campaigns in half a dozen states where neither the PAC nor any of the donors actually live. All in the name of an ongoing effort to nationalize and make partisan more and more of our local government.
But wait, you say, hasn’t it always been this way? How much damage is this really doing? No, it has not always been this way. It has never been this way for school board elections. This one PAC spent nearly $40,000 just on mailing lists for their national fundraising efforts (which looks like it was pretty effective, since they raised nearly $400k). They spent $115,000 just on postage for anti-CRT propaganda.
All of these numbers are only through the end of September 2021—this is just the money spent on fundraising and early messaging. October and November numbers are going to be worse (but won’t be reported until end-of-year FEC due date). But it’s not that hard to piece together a rough timeline of how this was all executed (thanks, again, to the FEC’s data reporting requirements):
- Early fundraising was done online via Anedot. Rough math suggests they raised around $300k by the end of June 2021. All of that money was unitemized—we don’t know who those people are.
- They then did some initial work with Templar Baker Group, a Michigan-based Republican political strategy and fundraising group, which led to the beginning of direct mail campaigns.
- Next stop: Donor Bureau, which helps non-profits and campaigns build targeting lists. This raised another $150,000 in direct donations.
Unfortunately, that’s the end of the paper trail thus far. We can see more spending on acquiring mailing lists, digital media campaign development, and so on, but most of that voter activation wouldn’t have begun until October (which is after the most recent reporting deadline). We do know from the PAC’s Twitter account, though, that they spent over $135,000 in support of their candidates as of October 21:
We supported 58 candidates in 29 school districts and spent over $135,000 on their races.— 1776 Project PAC (@1776ProjectPac) November 2, 2021
Hoping this is just the beginning
The largest of the school districts targeted by 1776 Project PAC is Douglas County in Colorado, with over 67,000 students and 89 school buildings. Like my own Blue Valley School District (Johnson County, KS), they have a 7-person board of education. Four of those positions were on the ballot; all four 1776-endorsed candidates won their race, which gives the PAC candidates majority control. The candidates were so integrated together as a slate that their campaign pages all ran on the same website.
The second-largest targeted district, in Minnesota (with 38,000 students), has six board members. Three of those chairs were up for election; the three PAC candidates all loudly proclaimed their anti-mask credentials. In district after district, if you research the PAC-endorsed candidates you’ll find plenty of talk about mask choice and the evils of critical race theory.
No matter where you live, if you care about the quality of your schools you owe it to yourself and your children to show up and vote in future school board elections. Look up the candidate websites, learn what they care about, and ask yourself if you’re OK with them (and their PAC sponsors) being in charge of school policies and budget.
Because here’s what’s going to happen next, whether you vote or not:
- The 1776 Project has declared victory—and they should; 75% of their endorsed candidates won their races. Nothing is better for PAC fundraising than showing the successful deployment of capital. “Return on investment.”
- This PAC (and others of similar inspiration) will either raise 5x money in the next school board election cycle and deploy their campaigns more broadly, or another larger PAC (or the Republican party apparatus itself) will take note of these successes and do the same.
Nonpartisan school board elections are gone. Every single school board race will have an elephant or donkey next to it; every school board member, every council member, every county official, every precinct ward is at risk of becoming a race between a conservative PAC-funded candidate and a non-conservative PAC-funded candidate.
People and organizations need to align against these forces and start building their own “anti-PAC” PACs. Rational-minded people have waited too long for the crazy to just go away; it’s not going away. It’s getting crazier. It’s what happens when you take a generation of school bullies and give them role models in the Supreme Court and the White House—they are emboldened. They know there aren’t any consequences to the raw pursuit of power.