Signs opposing Critical Race Theory line the entrance to the Loudoun County School Board headquarters, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
Several business executives and wealthy donors helped fund groups that targeted critical race theory, which was a hot-button issue during elections this fall, campaign finance records show.
The fight over critical race theory, an academic concept taught primarily in college- and graduate-level courses, was especially prominent in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe after pushing to ban the teaching of critical race theory in the commonwealth’s schools.
The battle over the concept is likely to heat up further with next year’s midterm elections on the horizon. Republican officials have already signaled that education issues such as the teaching of critical race theory will be a campaign focus. Critical race theory, also known as CRT, is an academic approach to studying the impact of racism. Conservatives have recently used the term to describe any anti-racism discussion or even any mention of race in schools.
One of the groups attacking critical race theory, the Fight for Schools PAC, is based in Virginia and is run by longtime GOP operative Ian Prior. “Welcome to the parent revolution,” the group’s website declares as it encourages visitors to donate.
While critical race theory is the group’s primary concern, according to its website, it also says: “Schools across the country remain only partially open, students are suffering from hopelessness and despair, and special needs children are falling through the cracks.”
The PAC is also backed by several affluent Republican financiers. Businesswoman and benefactor Sharon Virts is the PAC’s top donor, having contributed $11,000 so far, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project.
Virts, according to her LinkedIn page, is the founder and CEO of FCi Federal. The company, according to Bloomberg, “provides operations management and professional services to federal government agencies.” It was acquired by technology company PAE in 2017.
A website promoting Virts’ foundation says that she and her partner, Scott Miller, have focused their philanthropic efforts on education, health care and restoring historic landmarks. In 2016, the couple purchased the massive estate titled Selma, which is located in Leesburg, Va. According to local newspaper Loudoun Now, they spent about $1.2 million to purchase the historic mansion that features 20 rooms.
The couple and their home were featured in Washington Life Magazine in 2019. They said at the time that they spent $5 million restoring the property. Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows Virts contributed over $44,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2017, and later donated to Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Virts did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
1776 Action, a separate dark money group that also opposes critical race theory and is supported by people linked to former President Donald Trump, such as Newt Gingrich and Ben Carson, has donated $10,000 to the Fight for Schools PAC. The Presidential Coalition, which was founded by longtime Trump ally David Bossie, has given $5,000 to Fight for Schools.
Another anti-CRT organization, the 1776 Project PAC, has backed school board candidates in various states, including Virginia, Colorado, New Jersey and Ohio. The group was founded by author and political commentator Ryan Girdusky,
The 1776 Project PAC received a $1,000 donation from Pete Farrell, the chairman and founder of medical equipment company ResMed. Eric Gray, the vice president of insurance company Gray & Co., donated the same amount to the committee.
Both Girdusky of the 1776 Project and Prior of Fight for Schools noted in separate statements to CNBC that their committees were largely funded by small dollar donors. Records show that PACs combined have raised over $735,000.
“The vast majority of donations to Fight for Schools are from small dollar donors that are parents, grandparents and taxpayers frustrated with the failure of school boards to collaborate and be accountable to their constituents – specifically the Loudon County School board,” Prior told CNBC in a text message.
“Like I said there were over 17,000 donors and the average donation was less than $100. From my knowledge, no one made a donation larger than $10,000. But that all again came from online or through direct mail and not from personal solicitations,” Girdusky told CNBC over a Twitter message.
There are multiple other business leaders who are helping finance Fight for Schools.
Nicole Hall, the president of fundraising company HSP Direct, contributed $5,000 to the PAC in June. HSP direct has been paid over $30,000 for their services by the Fight for Schools PAC, according to Virginia based records. During the 2020 election cycle, HSP saw payments in excess of $6 million from GOP campaigns and affiliated committees, according to CRP data.
Alexander Marcus, a founder and managing director of fuel supply company ESI Total Fuel Management, gave $1,000 the PAC in August. Marcus did not return a LinkedIn message for comment.
Emord and Associates, a law firm that focuses in part on constitutional law, contributed $1,000 to the PAC in September. Jonathan Emord, the firm’s president, did not return an email seeking comment.
John Whitbeck, the founder of law firm Whitbeck Bennett, donated $1,000 to the committee in August. Whitbeck did not return a call and email for comment.
One business leader who contributed to Fight for Schools cited Covid policies as the reason for his donation.
Pete Snyder, the founder of venture capital firm Disruptor Capitol and a former Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, donated $2,000 Fight for Schools in July.
“Because our schools are an absolute freaking mess,” Snyder said in explaining why he contributed. “At that point in time our schools were shut and there was no view on opening them.”
Snyder also gave $15,000 to the Open FCPS Coalition, a group of parents in Virginia who support in-person learning.