DFER: The Real Billionaire Boys Club

L to R: David Einhorn, another hedge-funder on DFER’s advisory board, is president of Greenlight Capital, LLC; Board member Whitney Tilson is chief of T2 Partners and Tilson Funds and vice chair of New York’s KIPP Academy Charter Schools; Hedge-fund manager John Petry, a DFER board member, co-founded the Harlem Success Academy Charter School with Eva Moskowitz; DFER advisory board member Joel Greenblatt is a protégé of fallen junk-bond icon Michael Milken; Joe Williams heads Democrats for Education Reform and its sister organization, Education Reform Now.    
Who are these people? They don’t sound like Democrats.

If party registration and political donations indicate political allegiance, these DFER deep pockets are blue-blood Democrats. The group’s financial records show board members, advisers and the organization itself contributing heavily to Democratic campaigns as well as to the Democratic National Committee and its Senate and House election committees. However, when it suits their anti-union agenda, DFER leaders are only too happy to cross party lines and endorse Republicans, as DFER’s Whitney Tilson did in supporting Republican-Conservative Harry Wilson for New York State Comptroller against the victorious Democratic incumbent, Tom DiNapoli.

Can you name names?

Certainly. Among the group’s eight-person board is hedge-fund manager John Petry of Gotham Capital, who with Eva Moskowitz co-founded the Harlem Success Academy Charter School. The board also includes Tony Davis of Anchorage Capital, the board chair of Brooklyn’s Achievement First East New York school; Charles Ledley of Highfields Capital Management; and Tilson, chief of T2 Partners and Tilson Funds and vice chairman of New York’s KIPP Academy Charter Schools. Tilson alone gave $50,000 to the New York branch of DFER in the first half of 2010.

Of DFER’s seven-person advisory board, five manage hedge funds: David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, LLC; Joel Greenblatt, founder and managing partner of Gotham Capital and past protégé of fallen junk-bond icon Michael Milliken; Vincent Mai, who chairs AEA Investors, LP; Michael Novogratz, president of Fortress Investment Group; and Rafael Mayer, the Khronos LLC managing partner and KIPP AMP charter school director.

Orbiting the group is billionaire “venture philanthropist” and charter school funder Eli Broad, whose foundation gave upwards of $500,000 to plug advocacy related to the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” and another charter-touting film, “The Lottery.” Though not himself a DFER board member, Broad is a major funder of Education Reform Now, DFER’s nonprofit sister organization, also headed by Joe Williams.

Meanwhile, Andrew Rotherman, recently retired DFER director and EduWonk blogger, is co-founder of and a partner in for-profit Bellwether Education, described as “offering specialized professional services and thoughtful leadership to the entrepreneurial education reform field.” Rotherman sits on the Broad Prize Review Board, while DFER board member Sara Mead is a senior associate partner at his Bellwether Education and sits on the Washington, D.C., Public Charter School Board.

Birds of a feather.

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