Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan is a Joe Biden donor.
Bill and Melinda Gates jumped in early for Sen. Cory Booker, but haven’t donated to anyone since.
Eli and Edythe Broad, the influential California philanthropists, spread their donations around, giving to Booker and Biden as well as Sens. Michael Bennet and Kamala Harris.
Federal campaign finance records show that some of the biggest names in education policy and philanthropy have donated to a range of Democratic presidential hopefuls since their campaigns began, with a few donors giving to four, six, or even eight people. The nation’s largest teachers unions, meanwhile, are holding off on endorsements and have spent nothing yet.
Both are a reflection of the crowded field — and the reality that it’s far from clear who will end up winning the party’s nomination.
Most of these contributions are relatively small, as campaign spending goes, since individual donations to presidential candidates are capped. And it’s not clear that all of these donations are related to candidates’ education positions. (Some, including a spokesperson for Eli Broad, told Chalkbeat they donated with other factors in mind.) But the donations can serve as one signal of where candidates fall on certain hot-button education issues like charter schools that not all of the candidates have discussed in depth.
Here are a few items of note drawn from federal election filings, including newly released information about donations made through the end of 2019. We reached out to all of the donors mentioned below and included their response if we got one; donors who are also supporters of Chalkbeat are noted further below.
National teachers unions haven’t spent money yet — but plenty of individual teachers have.
At this point in the 2016 presidential election cycle, the country’s two largest teachers unions had already endorsed Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination and donated to her campaign. By the end of 2015, the National Education Association had spent $135,000, while the American Federation of Teachers had given $85,000. (They’d both go on to donate more to Clinton as Election Day neared.)
This time around, neither union has endorsed or spent in the presidential race. And they both changed their endorsement processes after angering members who thought they didn’t give Sen. Bernie Sanders enough consideration as a candidate in 2016.
Both the NEA and the AFT told Chalkbeat they do not have a timeline for their endorsements, even though voting began in Iowa earlier this week. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told Politico last week that her union is waiting to see which candidate “actually can deliver votes” in states with early primaries. An NEA official said it would be premature to discuss spending plans.
The AFT is leaving its options open when it comes to a primary endorsement, with president Randi Weingarten telling HuffPost in December, “I could see us doing it and I could see us not doing it.” The AFT told Chalkbeat it doesn’t comment on its donations.
Some influential local teachers unions have endorsed candidates, though they haven’t spent much either. The Los Angeles teachers union’s political action committee spent about $600 for Sanders just before endorsing him in November. (A union spokesperson said this paid staff for time spent posting information online about the endorsement.)
Individually, though, teachers have already played a notable financial role in the race. HuffPost reported that Sanders received the most of any candidate from K-12 teachers across the country — $2 million in 2019, according to data provided by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Sen. Elizabeth Warren took in the second-highest amount from teachers at $875,000, followed by Biden at $393,000.
Many big names in education philanthropy picked a candidate — or several.
The education donor who has spent the most in the election is doing so to support himself. That would be Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor who has given more than $200 million of his own money to catalyze his presidential bid.
But many other wealthy individuals who have supported education causes have chipped in for a range of candidates.
- Laura and John Arnold: The Texas philanthropists who support The City Fund each donated $2,800 to Bennet, the former Denver schools chief.
- Katherine Bradley: The D.C. philanthropist, who is on the KIPP Foundation’s board, gave $5,400 to Rep. Seth Moulton; $2,800 apiece to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Bennet, and former mayor Pete Buttigieg; $2,700 to Booker; and $1,000 to Biden.
- Eli and Edythe Broad: The Los Angeles philanthropists gave a total of $5,600 to Bennet, Biden, and Booker. They gave Harris $8,400. (Suzi Emmerling, a spokesperson for Broad, said the donations were not motivated by education issues.)
- Dick DeVos: The husband of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has donated $11,200 to Donald Trump’s re-election and another $400,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC.
- Bill and Melinda Gates: The philanthropists each donated $2,700 to Booker in October 2018, before his campaign officially launched. They do not appear to have donated to any presidential candidates since.
- Reed Hastings: The Netflix founder and charter school donor donated $5,600 to Buttigieg and co-hosted a fundraiser for him. (Hastings told Vice in December that he wasn’t sure where Buttigieg stands on charters and hadn’t spoken to him about the issue.)
- Laurene Powell Jobs: The founder of the Emerson Collective, which is behind XQ, gave $2,800 apiece to Bennet, Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar. She also gave $2,700 to Harris last January.
- Carrie Walton Penner and Greg Penner: Walton Penner, the Walton Family Foundation board chair who also sits on the KIPP Foundation board, gave $5,600 each to Booker and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper as well as $2,800 apiece to Bennet and Biden. She also donated $5,000 to a pro-Bennet PAC a month before he launched his presidential campaign. Her husband, chair of Walmart, made the same donations to Bennet, Biden, Hickenlooper, and the Bennet PAC.
Other prominent figures in the school reform world donated, too.
- Richard Barth: The KIPP Foundation CEO donated $250 to Bennet and later co-hosted a fundraiser for him.
- Richard Buery: KIPP’s chief of policy and public affairs donated at least $725 to Booker.
- Arne Duncan: President Obama’s education secretary, who now serves as a managing partner at the Emerson Collective, gave $1,000 to Biden.
- Chris Gabrieli: The chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education who also founded a nonprofit focused on school turnarounds has given to Bennet ($1,000), Biden ($2,800), Booker ($2,800), and Hickenlooper ($2,800).
- David Harris: The partner at The City Fund donated $500 to Buttigieg. (Harris, who is from Indiana, said he has long admired Buttigieg and attended a fundraiser hosted by a friend.)
- Shavar Jeffries: The president of Democrats For Education Reform, who sits on the KIPP Foundation board and is reportedly considering a run for New Jersey governor, donated $250 to Biden in September.
- John Petry: The a hedge fund manager who co-founded DFER and sits on the board of Success Academy charter schools, has donated widely, with $2,800 donations to Bennet, Bullock, Buttigieg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Klobuchar, Moulton, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He also donated $2,700 to Booker. (Petry told Chalkbeat that he chose candidates he thought could win in the general election and wasn’t focused on a specific policy issue.)
- Whitney Tilson: Another co-founder of DFER, Tilson donated $2,000 to Bennet and $2,800 to Booker. (“I was delighted to support my long-time friends Cory and Michael,” Tilson told Chalkbeat. “They both care deeply about reforming our broken and unjust system of K-12 public education.” Tilson says he is now supporting Bloomberg.)
Democrats for Education Reform made a big bet on Booker’s struggling campaign.
One big donation with a direct education connection was not made to a candidate, but to a super PAC known as United We Win. Formed in November 2019 to support Booker’s campaign, the super PAC took in a $250,000 donation from Boykin Curry, a New York hedge fund manager who co-founded DFER and the Public Prep charter school network. (Curry also made individual contributions in 2019: $5,500 to Booker, $2,800 to Gillibrand, and $2,800 to Bennet. He also donated another $5,000 to the Booker-backing Purpose PAC.)
In early December, a few weeks after Booker wrote an op-ed for the New York Times reiterating his support for charter schools, United We Win got another $250,000 from Education Reform Now Advocacy, an arm of DFER. But it wasn’t enough: Booker dropped out a month later.
“Senator Booker was one of the strong voices supporting high quality public education who we thought was important to keep on the debate stage,” DFER spokesperson Victoria Fosdal said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to engage Presidential candidates in the coming weeks and months in a conversation on how we can improve equitable outcomes for all students.” She declined to share the source of the donations to Education Reform Now Advocacy.
This story has been updated to include donations from Dick DeVos.
Arnold Ventures, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chris Gabrieli, the Emerson Collective through the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation are all Chalkbeat supporters.
We used FEC filings to report this story. See any notable donations that we missed? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll continue following donations as the campaign continues, and provide updates in stories and in our newsletter. Want to know more about each candidate’s positions on education? Check out our 2020 tracker.