With a primary election and budget season approaching, Pennsylvania is beginning to see how Jeffrey Yass and the political network associated with the Commonwealth Foundation are beginning to spend the millions they are sitting on.
A day before Governor Wolf’s budget address, leaders from the Commonwealth Foundation held their annual “Budget Briefing” in front of Pennsylvania Republican legislators and leaders. Pennsylvania Spotlight obtained notes from the meeting that highlights their budget priorities for the 2022-2023 budget. The meeting was led by Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield and documents show that the organization wants to use a portion of the remaining money from the American Rescue Plan to expand scholarship tax credits for privatized education that double as tax write-offs.
Previous reporting by Pennsylvania Spotlight shows how the Commonwealth Foundation and their donors regularly exploit these tax credits. The Commonwealth Foundation established a pass-through entity called “Commonwealth Kids LLC” in 2017 which received close to $3 million from the EITC and OSTC programs in tax credits. Additional records show a second pass-through entity named the Joshua Kids LLC also has connections to the Commonwealth Foundation.
In addition, the Commonwealth Foundation is targeting state legislators with mailers discussing additional legislation geared at defunding public schools. State Rep. Mary Isaacson took to her Instagram to call out the Commonwealth Foundation stating it was a “badge of honor” they were targeting her.
On the electoral spectrum, PACs funded by Yass have made considerable donations again to State Representative Jordan Harris and Senator Anthony Williams. Campaign finance records show that Rep. Harris received an additional $150,000 from Students First PAC, funded almost entirely by Yass, at the end of 2021 bringing the total amount received from Students First in recent years close to three-quarters of a million dollars.
Senator Williams has been a frequent recipient of Yass’ millions over his political career through various political action committees. Yass, through these political action committees, is the largest funder of Williams’ current 2022 senate campaign where he faces primary challenger and public educator Paul Prescod. According to campaign finance records, three PACs funded almost entirely by Yass have made donations totaling $105,000, making him arguably Senator Williams’ largest individual donor. The PACs include Students First at $75,000, the Education Opportunity PAC at $20,000, and $10,000 from Excellent Schools PA.
The donations did not escape the attention of Paul Prescod’s campaign. In an email from his campaign titled “My opponent is funded by a right-wing billionaire,” Prescod noted Yass’ donations to Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, stating, “We can’t allow Jeffrey Yass to have influence over our legislators.”