INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosier politicians at both the state and federal levels have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from prominent school choice supporters.
The largest recorded candidate donation — $225,000 — went to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels for his successful 2008 re-election bid.
That money came from Patrick Byrne, a Fort Wayne native who launched the online retailer Overstock.com and currently is board chairman of EdChoice, an Indianapolis-based school choice advocacy organization founded by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.
Byrne also gave Republican Tony Bennett $10,000 that year for his winning state superintendent of public instruction campaign.
In 2011, Daniels and Bennett worked with a Republican-controlled General Assembly to establish Indiana's now largest-in-the-nation private school voucher program, and to make it easier for charter schools to open in the state.
Bennett pulled in $310,000 in direct donations from prominent charter school advocates for his unsuccessful 2012 re-election effort, including $200,000 from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and $15,000 from current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her husband.
Other prominent recipients of school choice-related campaign funds include: former Gov. Mike Pence, now vice president of the United States; Gov. Eric Holcomb; U.S. Sen Todd Young, R-Ind; former U.S. Sens. Dan Coats and Dick Lugar, both R-Ind.; and U.S. Reps. Jim Banks, R-Columbia City; Larry Bucshon, R-Newburgh; Luke Messer, R-Shelbyville; and Jackie Walorski, R-Elkhart.
School choice money also has flowed extensively to state legislative candidates, though usually through intermediary political action committees.
For example, Byrne gave $200,000 in 2010 to Hoosiers for Economic Growth PAC and $25,000 to Daniels' Aiming Higher PAC, both of which funneled that money to mostly Republican House and Senate candidates throughout Indiana, according to campaign finance reports filed with the state.
Hoosiers for Economic Growth has since been renamed Hoosiers for Quality Education. Recent major donors include PACs and trusts connected to DeVos, Pence and Indianapolis charter school founder Christel DeHaan.
Last year, Hoosiers for Quality Education gave $177,000 to help elect Republican Jennifer McCormick state superintendent of public instruction, accounting for 32 percent of McCormick's fundraising total.