Thursday, May 30, 2013

Another question of ethics and integrity for the News Journal: Rodel lobbyists

Among the more interesting paragraphs in the Harvard Research Group study about the Rodel Foundation and education reform in Delaware is this bit that includes Paul Herdman talking (obviously before the 2012 school board elections) about the new areas Rodel would be moving into:

The foundation’s communications efforts and coalition building will deepen and expand as real changes begin to take effect. Rodel will concentrate on broadening support for those leading the change. While continuing to educate and inform the public about the need for change and what kind of change is possible, Rodel will direct communication efforts regarding specific larger scale changes that are going to be implemented by the state and districts—higher standards, greater accountability for performance, and development of strong new teachers and leaders. For these changes to be effective, many constituencies need to be willing to put aside old ways of doing business. One investment Rodel is making to support change processes on the ground is to incubate the emerging Voices 4 Delaware Education organization, a 501(c)(3) education advocacy organization. Other private sector partners will support the legally separate 501(c)(4) organization, Voices 4 Delaware Education Action Fund, as well as a functioning PAC. The investment in Voices is focused on bolstering broad public understanding of change needed in the state’s education system and on providing public leaders and lawmakers with information and knowledge to make the right choices for Delaware kids. Herdman adds, “When teacher evaluation efforts start to have consequences attached to them, when school board elections are no longer controlled by the old power structure, and when we take on fiscal equity issues and the funding formula, we anticipate strong voices of dissent. Changing behavior and shifting resources is extremely challenging to the status quo. There must be an effective counterbalance, an equally strong set of voices saying we need to do the right thing for kids and to support the elected officials and school-level leaders who are going to be receiving most of the heat in this new environment.”
Now the truly intriguing part about this is that what Herdman doesn't tell Harvard (and what, in an equally intriguing manner, they don't ask) is that Voices 4 Delaware Education will be engaging in candidate advertising, and directly attempting not only to elect like-minded individuals to school boards around the State, but to unseat existing board members like Shirley Saffer in Christina.

What's also truly interesting is the lack of integrity on the part of the report writer:  the report was issued in October 2012, months after the Rodel-led charge to drop tens of thousands of dollars to influence school board elections had gone down as a dismal failure.  Yet all readers get to see is a puff piece with Herdman holding forth on educating the public to "do the right thing for kids."

Apparently the right thing to do for kids is to spend thousands in trying to influence elections instead of spending it in the classroom.  (That kind of goes with all those multi-thousand dollar celebratory events that get covered in the News Journal more often than student test scores or the steady re-segregation of Wilmington schools.)

Apparently the right thing to do is also for Paul Herdman to saddle up as a registered lobbyist to push for (just this year) the passage of HB 90 and SB 51--at least according to the Delaware Public Integrity Commission:
OK, I happened to like HB 90, and applaud Kim Williams for introducing it.  I happen to think SB 51 is going to harm teacher preparation programs (and therefore the supply of new teachers) in Delaware.

And I want to point out that there is nothing illegal or inherently shameful about being a registered lobbyist.

There is, however, a question of journalistic integrity here for the News Journal to ponder.

What's missing here is the fact that Herdman is a registered lobbyist.  I don't necessarily blame him for the omission:  when you are shilling for a cause you take all the publicity you can get, however you can get it.

On the other hand, the newspaper would appear (even when it has no statewide competition, and is therefore effectively a monopoly) to have some journalistic obligations toward its readers.  And that means that when it allows people who have registered as lobbyists to write editorials it should actually inform the public.  I don't care if that registered lobbyist is John Daniello, John Flaherty, Frederika Jenner, Richard Korn, Chuck Mead-e, John Sigler, Wayne Smith, Ezra Temko, or Nancy Willing (all of whom are currently registered), the public has a right to know and the newspaper has a responsibility to report their status.

Again:  there is nothing illegal or unethical about being a registered lobbyist.

But we make people register for a reason, and the reason is ostensibly for transparency in government.

The public is supposed to be able to depend on its news sources for information about vested interest and who is exercising it in Legislative Hall:
Paul Herdman is CEO and president of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, a nonprofit that advocates for education reform.  Mr. Herdman is also a registered lobbyist.
See?  That wasn't so hard, was it?


Scott G. said...

Good Post Steve!

kavips said...

You should try cross referencing all News Journal commentators including letters to the editors and the lobbyist list...

it's an eye opener.

The News Journal opinion page would be very small if not for the lobbyist contributions.