As we detailed earlier this week, school board candidate (and former City Council member) Don Samuels isn't happy with a report recently published in the Investigative Fund that takes a tough, unflattering look at the copious national money pouring into his campaign.
But the journalist who reported the piece, Minneapolis-based freelancer Sarah Lahm, stands by what she wrote and tells us Samuels shouldn't take it personally.
"This is bigger than Don Samuels," Lahm says. "This isn't about Don Samuels, per se."
Lahm's piece reveals how individuals and organizations you wouldn't expect to have an interest in the Minneapolis school board have devoted tens of thousands of dollars in "independent expenditures" toward getting Samuels elected.
For instance, Lahm reports that a D.C.-based group called the 50CAN Action Fund has spent $14,350 on the Minneapolis school board race, with $10,000 of that coming from the pockets of California billionaire and Teach for America board member Arthur Rock. Some of that money has been spent to help Samuels.
"Has Arthur Rock ever been to Minneapolis? Has he ever been to a Minneapolis public school?" Lahm says. "What is his purpose and agenda? There's a $790 billion market in K-12 education through educational technology, he's an investor in this Rocketship charter school chain... There's a documented for-profit aspect to this, and I don't think it has anything to do with anything about Minneapolis policy that Arthur Rock is interested in."
Beyond Samuels, Lahm says the piece is about campaign finance in a post-Citizens United America.
"Where will [voters] get clear information about where the money is going?" Lahm says. "It has started to become a free-for-all during these elections, and I think one of the big draws for the story is, how are voters supposed to know?"
Ultimately, outside contribution from people like Rock can swing an election, Lahm says.
"Lawn signs, glossy mailers, phone calls from [organizations] telling people to vote for Don... all that is very expensive," she adds.
Samuels says he's upset Lahm didn't reach out to him for comment while she was reporting her story. Lahm, however, feels doing so wasn't necessary.
"I was tracking the bigger picture of, why is this money coming in and why Minneapolis?" Lahm says. "But I'd be happy to interview him about his finances, and what he thinks about it wasn't a part of this piece."
Though the ultimate implication of Lahm's reporting is that outside groups have undue influence on local elections and could make candidates beholden to them through financial contributions, Samuels recently told Fox 9 that regardless of who or what is supporting his campaign, he "can't be bought."