Monday, March 06, 2006

Where ed policy meets campaign finance reform

I wrote last week about the Republicans' sugar daddy in Texas, James Leininger. Over the weekend, the San Antonio Express News (which by the way, just might be the best newspaper in Texas) did a thorough piece on the San Antonio native.

He's spent over $3 million on state primary elections in this election cycle alone! That's a mind boggling figure for one person to have kicked in. Why's he doing it?

With a privately funded San Antonio voucher program poised to expire, and policy and political trends potentially making chances even bleaker for the controversial idea after next year's regular legislative session, some say this election is a make-or-break time.

So comes the war's escalation.

Leininger, 61, says that for him, it's all about improving the chances of saving inner-city children from low-performing public schools. His critics say vouchers would damage public education for all children.

What's more, critics say his infusion of more than $3.2 million so far in this year's primaries — with the majority going to the five targeted legislative seats — signals a disturbing effort by one man to buy democracy.

"It's unprecedented and more government than any one human being ought to be able to buy," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen, a private watchdog group. He called Leininger the "poster doctor" for campaign finance reform.

What the article doesn't get into is Dr. Leininger's religion. And it is an issue here. Dr. Leininger is a devout Christian, which is fine, but he wants public money to go to private Christian schools, which is not. If Leininger is successful tomorrow -- he would need most of his 5 House candidates and a conservative Democrat in the Senate to win -- he might just get his publicly funded voucher program after over a decade of trying.


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