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Office of Campaign Finance clears Rhee

The District's Office of Campaign Finance (OCF) has dismissed a complaint against Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee alleging that she acted improperly by soliciting private foundation funds to help support the DCPS contract with the Washington Teachers' Union.

The complaint was filed in June by Robert Vinson Brannum, a civic activist and vociferous critic of Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Brannum is supporting Fenty's opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary.

Rhee raised $64.5 million from four private foundations to underwrite pay raises and performance bonuses under the new contract ratified by teachers this year. Brannum alleged that Rhee may have violated the law because the foundations (Broad, Arnold, Robertson and Walton) reserved the right to reconsider their support in the event of a "material change" in DCPS leadership.

Brannum alleged that Rhee's role in securing the grants "may have resulted in a direct personal, financial benefit to her," the OCF opinion said. Brannum also alleged that Rhee may been required to disclose this potential conflict and recuse herself from dealings with the private funders.

The opinion, released Friday by OCF Director Cecily Collier-Montgomery, said there was no evidence to support the claims. While the foundations told investigators that Rhee engaged in "several high-level discussions" with the organizations, she played no role in the inclusion of the leadership clause in the grant agreement -- a provision that is standard with foundation grants. Nor did she receive any form of financial gain from the funders. Nor did the union contract address her continued employment.

Brannum said in an e-mail late Friday:

"When I filed my request for the OCF investigation, I was personally attacked by media supporters of Chancellor Michelle Rhee. I stand by my request for the OCF investigation, which despite media misrepresentations, was neither political nor frivolous. I accept the determination of OCF."

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By Bill Turque  |  September 3, 2010; 6:25 PM ET
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Mr. Brannum,

I feel you did the right thing. Rhee will always get away with bad behavior because she has wealthy supporters. It's hard to go up against money.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 3, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Why Brannum... why? What a waste of time for everyone! I hate to say but "WE TOLD YOU SO!"

Posted by: edjook8tr | September 3, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

I think Rhee was very careful not to leave a paper trail. But I bet when she spoke private meeting she probably let them know she wanted a leadership clause. Or they offered her, and she let them know she wanted it.

But I don't think she is innocent. She was wise enough not to leave a paper trail so she couldn't get caught. Didn't she do that once before when her boyfriend was accused of molesting some of his underage female students and Rhee was the one supposing cleaning things over for him.

I think she has learned by now how to not leave an audit trail.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 3, 2010 8:23 PM | Report abuse

@54 Like a lot of anti-changers, you seem to need the constant motivation of farfetched conspiracy theories and plots. The biggest problems in school systems, ed policy, and strategy are all in the open. Look in the classrooms for starters.

Posted by: axolotl | September 3, 2010 8:28 PM | Report abuse

“We Believe in Mayor Fenty” – Please check out the videos that we have created in support of the Mayor. It shows a Ward 6 mother supporting Mayor Fenty, a Ward 3 mother, and a small Latino business, La Morenita, expressing their strong support.

We also created a poster for each Ward, where you can print, post and show your friends that the Mayor Believes in the District.

Twitter: @WeBelieveFENTY

Vote FENTY – September 14, 2010!

Posted by: davidgdo | September 3, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

It's ok. I applaud Brannum's efforts as a taxpaying citizen to do what he did. Now that she's been cleared, she can go and pack up. Go and make another city(Sacramento) decide on the fate of a mayor.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 4, 2010 6:25 AM | Report abuse

It would have been both appropriate and the right thing to do for Mr. Turque to include this detail in this post:

1. On the heels of this decision, Fenty's reelection campaign put out a media advisory that Michele Rhee will appear with Fenty this morning to get out the vote as mentioned in Nikita Stewart's article/post this morning on the WashPost website. As Nikita so carefully points out there is no mention of the chancellor's title so it is clearly not linked to her office. So, in keeping with the Hatch Act and Ms. Rhee acting as private citizen and not as a government employee I can safely assume that she will not and can not answer any questions about DCPS. So, what will she talk about? How will do any of us know that the Michelle Rhee in that media alert is the chancellor and not another Michelle Rhee whom everyone wants to meet.

Posted by: mfalcon | September 4, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I was mistaken. While the information in my previous post would have been nice for Turque to include. The following is the most glaring omission:

The material change in leadership clause for the private funding (almost 64 million) is not the current problem. Instead, there were several conditions in the DC Education Fund letter to Michelle Rhee on March 30, 2010. And, DCPS has already FAILED TO MEET THIS CONDITION thereby allowing all the funders to pull their money.

By mere coincidence, even though the Michelle Rhee has taken credit for giving teachers long overdue raises and retroactive pay, teachers have not seen a penny. In fact, teacher are to this day still being paid their 2006 pay rate.

Here is condition exactly as it is outlined in the March 30, 2010 letter:

"Given that the funding commitments were based on a belief that the proposed teachers' contract will have a significant impact on the outcomes of your reform efforts, DCPS will be required to report on key metrics and outcomes, such as student achievement growth and teacher retention. In the case that the anticipated outcomes are not being realized, the third party funders reserve the right to reconsider their support."

Not a good sign, but the next clause in the individual donor letters is the real cause for concern:

"D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Public Education Fund must verify that D.C. Public Schools is meeting the student achievement outcomes detailed in the "Predicted Gains" document received on February 16, 2010."

The question is what are the predicted gains and where is a copy of their February 16th letter?

Mr. Turque we are anxiously awaiting.

Posted by: mfalcon | September 4, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

The complaint wasn't frivolous, and the suspicions were reasonable. Washingtonians are so full of themselves they forget that Mayoral control is unusual, so only the smallest fraction of schools superintedents / chancellors are linked so closely to an elected official, and in this case one whose election loss THIS chancellor has said will trigger her departure.

In probably more than 99% of Foundation grants the closest the leadership of local schools is to voter choice is through the election of some, --but rarely all, what with staggered terms -- school board members, when that board is openly divided over the school superintendent. So, in the experience of all of those grants, there is NO direct connection between electoral politics and the interests of the granting agency, the moreso because the school board are all trustees of the schools and students.

Posted by: incredulous | September 4, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse


please STOP

Posted by: guylady201001 | September 5, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

News Flash, davidgdo, I BELIEVED in Fenty, but would never vote for him again. I am a Ward 3 resident who will be voting for Vince Gray.

Posted by: madmom1 | September 5, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

mfalcon @5:05.

That is outstanding identification of a major risk from high-stakes testing. Shouldn't we wonder that qualified contracts officers carefully reviewing all DCPS grant proposals, and notifing --who exactly? -- that promised outcomes may corrupt the education and accountability processes? Threatened loss of funding will surely pressure principals to pressure teachers to make sure the test results are at least as good as needed.

Posted by: incredulous | September 5, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

@guylady--hey, it's not worth trying to discourage davidgdo or anyone else from promoting a candidate. Why not just push your own favorite's positions? We get the kind of government we deserve. And given the polls, we must deserve, say, a 20 percent increase in DC Govt headcount and utter chaos in DCPS for several years forward as the anti-changers try to rollback, Walmart style, the "quality" of DCPS. Unfortunately, the schools began declining almost since the moment we got home rule. No one's responsible.
Leave No Teacher Behind

Posted by: axolotl | September 6, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

"The opinion, released Friday by OCF Director Cecily Collier-Montgomery, said there was no evidence to support the claims. While the foundations told investigators that Rhee engaged in "several high-level discussions" with the organizations, she played no role in the inclusion of the leadership clause in the grant agreement -- a provision that is standard with foundation grants. Nor did she receive any form of financial gain from the funders."

This is a classic example of how the law intentionally creates a loophole for white-collar crime and corruption. Of course there was not need to discuss specifically the leadership claues. It was assumed by all parties from the beginning. There would have been no discussions BUT FOR the fact that Rhee's corporate sponsors wanted to create a financial incentive for voters to keep Rhee and Fenty.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 9, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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