The confirmation vote for Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, is scheduled for this Tuesday, so we can expect to see a final flurry of information–and misinformation, as it may be–over the next 48 hours in an all-out attempt to secure her the position. And it’s a good bet that one of the individuals behind this wave of propaganda will be Ed Patru, the self-appointed head, and–as sleuthed out recently by Mercedes Schneider–probably the only member, of “Friends of Betsy DeVos.”
I searched for any formally organized group calling itself Friends of Betsy DeVos, and I found no record. In fact, the only hits I did find always seem to be some quote by Ed Patru, spokesman for Friends of Betsy DeVos.
There is just Ed Patru.
According to his Linkedin bio, Ed Patru is a PR guy who is currently VP of Media Affairs for a Washington, DC-based, PR firm, DCI Group.
So, perhaps not surprisingly, there’s really no such thing as a group called “Friends of Betsy DeVos” — there’s just Ed Patru, trotting out supportive quotes and press releases touting Ms. DeVos as the next coming of John Dewey and Mother Teresa…
Patru argued that DeVos does not push for school choice in “the thousands of school districts across the country where public schools are doing a great job.” Rather, her “focus has always been on the hundreds of thousands of poor kids who, by no fault of their own, are forced to attend public schools that aren’t working.
There isn’t a serious person in America who looks at Betsy’s nearly 30-year record of investing her time, energy and fortune in bringing educational equity to communities of color and concludes that her motivation for doing this is racism,” Patru declared. “It doesn’t even make sense. It’s absurd and preposterous on its face.
Patru pointed out “the broad base of support she has earned among African Americans, urban Democrats, Latinos, and other minorities because of her work in promoting educational equality.
However, Ed Patru is a very good friend to have if you’re a spectacularly unqualified, bumbling candidate for a high-level executive position overseeing a government agency that is responsible for a profession you know absolutely nothing about.
So what brought Ed and Betsy together? How did a West Michigan multi-level marketer find a high-powered Washington-insider political spin doctor to prop up her “campaign”? And what experiences has Mr. Patru had that qualify him for this unenvious task?
Ed Patru currently works as “VP of Media Affairs for a Washington, DC-based, PR firm, DCI Group.” What does DCI Group do?
DCI’s founders cut their teeth working for the tobacco industry in the 1990s, and one of the group’s managing partners, Tom Synhorst, was a field coordinator for the RJ Reynolds tobacco company.
The work of a field coordinator for RJR included keeping track of state and local smoking bans and cigarette tax initiatives; monitoring workplace smoking bans; meeting with company sales representatives; developing and supporting “smoker’s rights” groups, including setting up meetings, circulating petitions, and providing materials; contacting school districts concerning RJR’s youth program; placing people in public meetings and meetings with legislators to support the tobacco industry’s position; getting letters to the editor printed in local and regional newspapers; and creating alliances with organizations with similar concerns, such as anti-tax groups.
In one internal memo, field representatives were instructed: “Xerox like crazy. When a favorable letter to the editor is printed, getting people to copy the letters and send them to their elected officials with a note saying (essentially) ‘This is what I think, too,’ is key. [Letters to the editor] now become a two-step process: Step One is getting them published. Step Two is circulating them as widely as possible.”
According to a study published February 8, 2013 in the journal Tobacco Control, “Rather than being a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009, the Tea Party has developed over time, in part through decades of work by the tobacco industry and other corporate interests.” The DCI Group was behind this effort through their consultation services to Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, both of whom have worked to oppose smoke-free laws across the United States since at least 2006.
DCI Group also has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a “corporate bill mill” that provides draft templates of proposed legislation that ethically-challenged congressional representatives can use to advance bills that ALEC wants passed, but that the reps weren’t quite clever enough to write themselves.
Another client of DCI Group was the nation of Azerbaijan, which the US Department of State notes “is one of the most important spots in the world for oil exploration and development” but rates the country’s human rights record as “poor, especially with respect to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the administration of justice, and the respect of property rights.”
For the low, low price of only $20,000 per month, DCI agreed to provide “strategic PR, media outreach and establishment of relationships with U.S. think tanks.” DCI’s goal here was to develop relationships between Azerbaijan and American think tanks because these organizations are “vital contributors to the formulation of U.S. policy and serve as validators of official policy positions.”
“Human Rights Watch has condemned the Azerbaijaini government for its treatment of ‘imprisoned journalists, human rights defenders, and political opposition activists’ after police forces attacked anti-corruption protesters in the capital city of Baku in October 2012.”
So, it seems that Mr. Patru’s work with Betsy DeVos would not be the first time that a DCI employee has worked with an ethically and morally challenged client to help advance policies harmful to American citizens.
Another special skill of the DCI Group is its expertise in developing fake grassroots organizations. These “astroturf” groups give the perception that ordinary citizens have joined forces to support a particular cause, and present an insidious challenge to transparency in governance and public policy work by obfuscating the intentions behind movements, and creating the impression that things are not quite as they seem. In other words, lying.
A prime example of this tactic “was the DCI-backed front group, ‘Stop Too Big To Fail,’ aimed at killing Wall Street reform. Stop Too Big To Fail ‘is an astroturf operation funded by corporate interests to give the appearance of grassroots opposition to reform.’ The group posed as a liberal grassroots organization and launched a $1.6 million ad campaign asking viewers to tell their senators, ‘vote against this phony ‘financial reform.’ Support real reform, stop ‘too big to fail.’’ Stop Too Big To Fail has also launched diaries on netroots sites like Daily Kos and FireDogLake and posted columns on Huffington Post. The group even went as far as to dupe Simon Johnson, a former chief economist at the IMF, now at MIT, into participating ‘in a media conference call purportedly on the topic of breaking up large banks.’ To his dismay, they later displayed a photo of Johnson, who is a prominent advocate of breaking up the big banks, on their webpage.
This was not the first time DCI has helped large corporations to create a phony ‘consumers group.’ DCI has manufactured ‘grassroots’ campaigns for the tobacco industry in fake ‘smoker’s rights groups’ and has managed public relations for the Coalition to Protect Patients’ Rights, an anti-health reform group.”
DCI operatives have also:
- Worked on “stealth campaigns” to undermine mortgage reform legislation in 2008
- Represented the military junta in Burma in 2002, drafting press releases critical of the Bush administration
- Worked behind the scenes for Microsoft as they were embroiled in an anti-trust suit in the 1990s, to “sway public opinion and the opinion of state and federal officials”
- Lobbied on behalf of the “Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), one of the country’s largest and most influential trade associations,” in order to generate positive PR for the controversial Medicare Act of 2003. DCI paid thousands of dollars to health care consultants to plant positive stories in the press, tilting the battle in favor of the law
- Contributed to the “birth” of a new industry in Washington: journo-lobbying…”an innovation driven primarily by the influence industry. Lobbying firms that once specialized in gaining person-to-person access to key decision-makers have branched out. The new game is to dominate the entire intellectual environment in which officials make policy decisions, which means funding everything from think tanks to issue ads to phony grassroots pressure groups. But the institution that most affects the intellectual atmosphere in Washington, the media, has also proven the hardest for K Street to influence—until now.”
To review, Mr. Patru and his colleagues at DCI Group have worked with radical dictatorships across the world to destabilize entire nations and economies; have deliberately lied to and dangerously misled the public with respect to tobacco use, the mortgage crisis, and big pharma; and have been on the ground floor during the birth of two of the most destructive movements in US politics–“astroturf” groups, and journo-lobbying, both of which have contributed to the American public’s distrust of one of our most venerable institutions, the press…and each other.
That Ms. DeVos would turn to a public relations lobbyist and operative like Ed Patru, an employee of a firm with a long track record of unethical business relationships, tampering in the affairs of sovereign nations, and flat-out dirty tricks, should tell us everything we need to know about her true goals and motivations in pursuing the position of Secretary of Education…
For Betsy, it’s not about the kids.
It’s not about learning.
It’s not even about “choice”.
It’s all about the money. And the power.
Our schools are not businesses.
And Betsy DeVos has no business being Secretary of Education.