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New UT Regent Cranberg a major political donor and charter school advocate (but not in Texas)

Cranberg_thumb_382.jpg
Cranberg_thumb_382.jpg

The Austin American-Statesman‘s Jason Embry reported today on the “deep ties” new University of Texas Regent Alex Cranberg has to the state of Colorado, where he’s one of the most prominent advocates on behalf of charter schools.

In the article, Embry notes that oil-and-gas businessman Cranberg has made political donations of about $500,000 in Colorado during the past six years, while giving a single $2,000 donation to a Texas candidate — U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer — during that time.

A further review of campaign finance records shows that Cranberg and his companies have together donated nearly $1.1 million to Colorado committees and candidates at the state level since 1994, according to Colorado Secretary of State records. (Cranberg’s companies include Aspect Energy, Aspect Holdings, Aspect Management, Aspect Resources, Azimuth Energy, Long Canyon and Walnut Software.)

Since 1992, Cranberg has donated nearly $290,000 to federal candidates and committees, in states including Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 2003 and 2006, Cranberg gave a total of $6,000 to Neugebauer’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Meanwhile, R. Todd Neugebauer is president of Cranberg’s Aspect Holdings, according to the company’s website. One of Neugebauer’s two sons is named Todd.

In 2005, Cranberg gave $4,200 to the Colorado congressional campaign of Rick O’Donnell, who held several top appointed spots in Colorado state government, including head of the Department of Higher Education.

According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation website, O’Donnell is president of the Acton Foundation for Entrepreneurial Excellence, an organization affiliated with the Acton School of Business’ MBA program. (Read more about Acton from the Texas Independent.) O’Donnell is also on the board of advisors for the Alliance for Choice in Education, the Denver nonprofit founded by Cranberg.

In 2003, Cranberg donated $2,000 to then-Pres. George W. Bush.

As our sister publication the Colorado Independent reported in 2007, Cranberg was a bundler for and a member of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “Statewide Finance Committee,” holding the title of “Honorary Finance Chair.” (Read more from the Colorado Independent here.)

In 2008, the Colorado Independent documented Cranberg’s ties to the failed U.S. Senate campaign of Bob Schaffer (a former Cranberg employee), via a 501(c)4 nonprofit and a bevy of other entities with various disclosure requirements. In one instance, Cranberg donated $600,000 to 527 group Coloradans for Change in 2006.

Cranberg has also thrown his money around in state-level contests around the nation, giving nearly $140,000 to state candidates in locations such as Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and South Carolina, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Included in that total is $100,000 to Minnesota House and Senate committees, as well as $5,000 to former Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo in 2004.

Cranberg’s donation of $5,000 to the successful 2006 campaign of South Carolina state Rep. L. Kit Spires (along with other contributions from out-of-state donors) drew the attention of Columbia, S.C., newspaper The State. At the time, reporter Tim Flach wrote that Spires’ campaign “is fueled by donations from out-of-state sources with an agenda promoting state aid for private school students.”

During the same 2006 election season, The State associate editor Cindi Ross Scoppe opined on Cranberg’s contributions (via himself and four of his companies) of $17,500 to state superintendent of education candidate Karen Floyd. At the time, Scoppe wrote that she had “no problem with Denver businessman and voucher aficionado Alex Cranberg bankrolling [pro-charter school] candidates […] What I have a problem with is the way they shuffle money around to circumvent our law, which is supposed to stop anyone from giving more than $3,500 to a statewide candidate per election.”

(Efforts by the Texas Independent to calculate Cranberg’s donations to South Carolina’s campaigns in 2006 were unsuccessful because the South Carolina State Ethics Commission only keeps political donations online for six years.)

Additionally, National Institute on Money In State Politics‘ data show that Cranberg’s Aspect Energy and subsidiaries gave nearly $110,000 from 2004-2010 to state-level candidates, including $56,5000 to candidates in South Carolina.

Cranberg also appeared in a 2006 article by Amy Lane in weekly newspaper Crain’s Detroit Business. Lane reported that Cranberg gave $3,400 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, in part because “He shares DeVos’ interest in school choice and is on the board of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Advocates for School Choice, an organization whose board members include DeVos’ wife, Betsy.”

In today’s Statesman story, a Texas Democratic Party spokeswoman questioned Cranberg’s record of involvement in Texas. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry told Statesman reporter Embry that Cranberg graduated from Westlake High School and UT; his parents live in Austin; and he has “substantial business activities in Texas.”

Embry reported that Cranberg voted in Colorado in November 2010 and registered to vote in Texas Jan. 18.

Interestingly, Cranberg appeared in an April 2006 story (not available online) by Julian Brouwer in London’s Daily Mail, the chief subject of which was Cranberg’s Belfast-born wife Susan Morrice and their Belize Natural Energy company, backed by 70 Irish investors. The topic of the story, headlined, “How self-help guru beat Texans to an oil strike,” is how BNE — with the assistance of Irish ‘mind technology’ guru Tony Quinn — struck oil in the Caribbean country after the failure of “greedy Texas Tycoons who spent 50 years trying to plunder Belize for oil and only managed to produce 50 dry holes in the ground,” according to the article.

Throughout the story, reporter Brouwer uses colorful descriptions characteristic of the British tabloid to contrast Cranberg and Morrice’s company with Texas oilmen, portrayed as ‘J.R. Ewing’-type figures from the soap opera Dallas. The story concludes:

“Meanwhile, JR and his Texan friends may have left Belize with their tails between their legs but since the Irish struck oil rumours abound that oil barons wearing big Stetsons are desperate to cash in too.”

“When you see Texans coming down here, you know that something is up,” said bartender Robert Williams, at the Smoky Mermaid in Belize City.

However, Cranberg and Perry do have at least one thing in common — a shared interest in the Boy Scouts of America. According to Cranberg’s bio on the website of Sendero Capital Partners, Cranberg served as a trustee for the Denver Area Boy Scouts Council.

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