By now just about everyone has seen the posters around the neighborhood over the last few weeks – the ones with a woman’s portrait stylized like the President Barack Obama “Hope” posters.
The woman portrayed is Fatimah Loren Muhammad, who is challenging long-time incumbent James Roebuck in tomorrow’s primary for the Democratic nomination in the state General Assembly’s 188th District, which includes a sizable chunk of West Philly. Muhammad is an intriguing candidate to say the least. She is young (27), a Penn graduate, Muslim, openly bisexual and she grew up poor, and sometimes homeless, as the daughter of a single mother. That story resonates with lots of West Philly voters. The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity recently endorsed her.
But there is another Fatimah Muhammad, one whose candidacy is being bankrolled by many people who have a very different life story. Her connection to conservative, pro-voucher (or “school choice,” depending on your political persuasion) donors has been well reported. Rep. Roebuck, who has served in the General Assembly since 1985 (too long for some people’s taste), has been an obstacle for the pro-voucher contingent, which aims to provide students public money to attend private and parochial schools.
Spend a few minutes with Muhammad’s campaign finance reports (they are included below) and another couple of minutes on Google and you will find a straight line between her campaign and pro-voucher, Republican billionaires.
Roebuck’s campaign has drawn money from those opposed to vouchers, including $5,000 from the Committee to Support Public Education, a PAC funded by the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers. That single contribution accounts for about a third of the total donations to Roebuck’s campaign.
Muhammad has said that the whole voucher issue is a “distraction.”
As for the money, she recently told The Philadelphia Tribune that, as a newcomer, she can’t be choosy about donations.
“As someone who’s new to politics, I can’t afford not to take money from anyone,” she recently told the Trib‘s Eric Mayes.
She continued in the article: “In this campaign vouchers have been used by my opponent to try and pigeonhole me in a particular area,” she said. “My stance is to keep everything on the table. I want parents at the center of this — not for political gain or anything. My stance has always been empowering parents.”
Below is the recently released campaign finance report for Friends of Fatimah. At least 80 percent of the $76,030 she raised is from groups and individuals connected to school voucher lobbyists, mostly organizations funded by Students First.
Here is a playbill for the biggest contributors:
• Students First PAC – $25,000
A school voucher campaign contributor that receives its funding from the American Federation for Children, a network of wealthy pro-voucher contributors. Finance wizard and billionaire Joel Greenberg of Bala Cynwyd sits on the organization’s Board of Directors. Gov. Tom Corbett reportedly received $50,000 from the organization in his campaign for governor.
• Women for Change – $4,000
The City Paper calls this organization, which lists an Elkins Park address but very little else, a “shell of a PAC.” On March 21, Students First contributed $10,000 to Women for Change. On March 23, Women for Change contributed $4,000 to Fatimah Muhammad.
• Public Education Excellence – $7,500.
A PAC run in part by Joy Herbert, a parent of a West Philadelphia High School student who served on the school’s School Advisory Council. The PAC received $6,000 from Students First on March 19 and another $6,000 on March 27, according to campaign finance reports.
• Progressive Agenda PAC - $5,900
Another PAC that received money from Students First. On March 27, Students First contributed $6,000 to Progressive Agenda, about a week before Progressive Agenda contributed $5,900 to Friends of Fatimah.
• Black Clergy PAC – $1,000
Also on March 27, Students First contributed $6,000 to the Black Clergy PAC, according to campaign finance reports. On April 6 the PAC contributed $1,000 to the Muhammad campaign and April 17, the Black Clergy publicly endorsed Muhammad.
• Citizens Networking for Progress PAC – $3,000
On March 27, Students First contributed $8,000 to this PAC. On April 9. Friends of Fatimah received $3,000 from the PAC.
• Barbara Chavous – $9,239.03
An individual contributor whose address is listed in Macon, Ga. on campaign finance reports, Chavous works for the Muhammad campaign. Her daughter, Dawn Chavous (who contributed $4,000 to the campaign), is married to Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson. Dawn Chavous is also the executive director of Students First PA.