Wealthy advocates of government-funded vouchers have established their own private voucher programmes in an effort to promote them. By 2000 there were many private voucher programs covering 50,000 children in 80 cities but these were still regarded as “demonstration models” for government-funded vouchers. Fritz Steiger, president of Children First, pointed out that the privately-funded vouchers were “a drop in the bucket” – $270 million compared with the $386 billion public education budget – and his organization’s ultimate goal was tax-supported choice.
In Texas a San Antonio businessman, James Leininger, is a major financer of the school voucher campaign. In 1992 he founded the first private voucher program in Texas in 1992, the Children’s Economic Opportunity (CEO) Foundation. Leininger admits that his private funding of vouchers is part of the campaign to get government funded vouchers. These private voucher programs are also eligible for tax credits in some states so that they are, in effect, funded by the government.
Leininger is the largest donor to the state Republican party and consequently “one of the most politically powerful men in Texas”. He contributed over $1.5 million to the Republican Party in the 18 months to June 2002. He is credited with creating “a vast web of interlocking and overlapping pressure groups to promote this agenda.” Leininger and his wife home-schooled their own four children.
From 1997 to March 2006, the Leiningers contributed or loaned nearly $10 million to candidates for state offices and to political action committees active at the state level. During the same period, the Leiningers contributed more than $1 million to campaigns and political committees at the federal level and in other states. Those vast sums of money went almost exclusively to Republicans and far-right political committees. Indeed, Dr. Leininger has been called the “sugar daddy of the religious right” in Texas, and the name clearly fits.
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