Online charter school operators donated a lot to pols and Ohio party
There was a time when Bill Lager wrote check after check to political parties and candidate campaigns, sending tens of thousands of dollars as he built the electronic classroom of tomorrow at the largest online charter school in the world. ‘Ohio.
Campaign fundraising records released in response to a federal grand jury subpoena issued in February 2019 show that Lager and his associates paid $ 1.66 million to candidate committees and an additional $ 300,000 to political parties. 2000 to 2019.
The US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation declined to comment on the state of the The electronic classroom of tomorrow investigation.
In response to the summons, the Ohio Secretary of State sent out 16 spreadsheets that document a pattern of generous contributions to Ohio politics over nearly two decades.
All contributions went to the Republican Party accounts and almost all of the candidates supported by ECOT were Republicans. And about $ 1.4 million of candidate contributions went to legislative candidates.
Lager and his associates have stepped up their political giving over the years and strategically donated to politicians who were in a good position to help or hinder online school. The recipients included legislative leaders and committee chairs, state governor and auditor candidates, Supreme Court justices, and state school board candidates.
Donations reached a crescendo in June 2017 when Lager and ECOT’s COO Melissa Vasil each contributed $ 12,000 to Republican Larry Householder’s campaign committee and each contributed $ 38,000 to the Republican Party of Ohio – $ 100,000 donated over four days.
At the time, the school filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn a ruling by state officials that ECOT is reimbursing $ 64 million.
Some of this money appeared to flow from the state party to the county parties and then to the Householder campaign committee. This triggered a series of refunds.
Here is the diagram of donations and reimbursements in 2017:
- June 22 – Lager and Vasil each contribute $ 12,000 to Householder’s campaign
- June 26 – Lager and Vasil each contribute $ 38,000 to the Ohio GOP
- June 30 – Ohio GOP donates $ 70,000 to Summit County Republican Party
- July 8 – Summit County Republican Party contributes $ 70,000 to Householder campaign
- July 28 – Ohio GOP donates $ 65,000 to the Cuyahoga County Republican Party. Cuyahoga GOP pays $ 63,000 to Householder
- August 1 – Household campaign brings in $ 70,000 to Summit GOP. Ohio GOP returns $ 38,000 to Lager.
- August 3 – Household Campaign Brings $ 63,000 to Cuyahoga GOP
- December 13 – Ohio GOP returns $ 38,000 to Vasil.
Following:Ohio GOP returns ECOT money, head of household returns county party donations
Householder’s campaign said it returned the funds once the campaign realized it had taken too much money from the county party. State law states that a candidate can accept a maximum of $ 63,500 from all parties in the county per election period.
It is illegal in Ohio for donors to use a state or county party to covertly allocate campaign contributions to a specific candidate.
Following:Which side is right in the political battle against ECOT’s blame?
Lager founded the school in 2000 and established for-profit companies to manage and provide IT services to the charter school. The companies have raised around $ 1 billion in public funds since 2000.
Early on, however, state audits revealed that ECOT had been overpaid. A 2001 special audit found that Ohio overpaid $ 1.9 million, and a financial audit released in 2002 found overpayments of $ 1.65 million.
In 2003, ECOT and the Ohio Department of Education entered into a funding agreement that largely limited enrollment reviews. And in 2005, the state imposed a moratorium on new online schools, which limited competition for ECOT for eight years.
In September 2016, the Ohio Department of Education determined that ECOT had overestimated its student body and the state demanded repayment of $ 64 million. ECOT is still contesting this refund order.
In January 2018, the school abruptly closed. Five months later, in May, state auditor Dave Yost released a critical report raising allegations of fraud. The verification has been returned to federal authorities.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations in Ohio.