Pennsylvania’s right-wing billionaire, Jeffrey Yass is attempting to put his thumb on the scales of Harrisburg’s mayoral race through recent donations to charter school advocate, and Commonwealth Foundation ally, Otto Banks. Yass made two separate contributions totaling $75,000 to a committee associated with Otto Banks – the Committee for Progressive Communities – in early 2021 through his Students First PAC. These contributions come on the heels of the intense scrutiny the right-wing billionaire faced for funding extremist Republicans who helped spread Donald Trump’s lies about the election following the January 6th insurrection.
Locally, Jeffrey Yass is the single largest donor to two political action committees associated with the Commonwealth Foundation. Yass’ Students First PAC has donated over $20 million to the Commonwealth Leaders Fund and the Commonwealth Children’s Choice Fund since 2019. Both of these political action committees list the former Commonwealth Foundation CEO Matt Brouillette as their treasurer and both committees contributed to extremist Republicans such as Senator’s Doug Mastriano and Cris Dush.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Otto Banks’ ties to the Commonwealth Foundation and to the charter school industry runs deep through Harrisburg. Banks serves as Executive Director of the Reach Foundation, an organization that allows wealthy Pennsylvanians to profit off the backs of children by exploiting the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Programs. Board members from the Reach Foundation and the Reach Alliance include Matt Brouillette from the Commonwealth Partners, Nathan Benefield from the Commonwealth Foundation and Chris Bravacos from the Bravo Group.
In 2019, Pennsylvania Spotlight uncovered how those at the Commonwealth Foundation exploit the EITC and OTSC tax credit programs to profit off the backs of children through their Commonwealth Kids LLC. The Commonwealth Kids LLC is a pass-through entity that was registered in 2017 and promoted by the Commonwealth Foundation at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. As of 2019, the Commonwealth Kids LLC donated $3.2 million to local scholarship funds and received $2.8 million in tax credits from the programs.
There are even more egregious examples of how Otto Banks’ allies have profited off the charter school industry. Prior to launching his campaign for mayor, Banks created the “Fair City Agenda,” and one of the Fair City Agenda’s “architects” includes Chris Bravacos, the CEO of the Bravo Group. After examining the 990 reports for Commonwealth Connections Charter Academy and Commonwealth Cyber Academy, the Bravo Group raked in a staggering $30.1 million dollars in advertising and consulting fees from 2015 to 2019.