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Spending, Fundraising Habits of Pro-Charter Group Come Under Scrutiny

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The spending and fundraising habits of a pro-charter school group that has gone to battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio are coming under scrutiny after disclosure forms filed with the state failed to shed much light on the group's activities. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.

Many New Yorkers may not know the name of the pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools, but they certainly know its work: a flurry of television ads over the last few weeks attacking Mayor Bill de Blasio for his position on charter schools. The $3.6 million TV ad blitz has helped take a toll on the mayor's approval rating.

"This has been a very, very good campaign," said George Arzt, a Democratic consultant. "Very effective and probably very expensive."

The not-for-profit is required to disclose its lobbying expenses with the state, but its report for January and February offers little insight into its activities. It said it spent just $115,000 during that period, nearly all of it on advertising and creative development, with $50,000 going to SKD Knickerbocker, a consulting firm that produced ads for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A spokesman for the group said that its first TV ad, which aired in late February, was not considered lobbying because it promoted the benefits of charter schools. He said a lawyer also advised the group that a massive rally it held on the steps of the state Capitol on March 4 was not lobbying, either.

Families for Excellent Schools received $500,000 last year from the Walton Family Foundation, started by the founders of Walmart. The board of the charter group includes hedge fund and venture capital executives.

"These are kind of the same kind of one percenters that kind of crashed Wall Street," said Zakiyah Ansari of the Alliance for Quality Education. "If you hide your money where it is as opposed to showing for everyone to see, it leaves a little bit. We don't get the full picture.

Families for Excellent Schools is not required to disclose its donors because it is a 501(c)3. A spokeswoman for Bloomberg said that he has not contributed to the group.

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