Investigation Shows Rep Jim Christiana’s Ties To School Choice Groups Could Top $170,000

Representative Jim Christiana – Official Portrait

State Representative Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) has raised over $50,000 so far this year from political action committees (PACs) promoting “school choice” initiatives, and an investigation by the Beaver Countian has revealed hidden ties between the legislator and an additional $120,000 in PAC money.

The funds originated from two well-financed political action committees: The Fighting Chance PA PAC, which shares the name of a purported grassroots campaign affiliated with the Pennsylvania Catholic Coalition, and the Students First PAC, which has spent millions promoting school choice and voucher initiatives.

In March of this year Students First donated $25,000 to Jim Christiana’s campaign committee, which was followed in May by a donation of $25,000 from Fighting Chance.

One month later, Representative Christiana helped to pass legislation which saw an increase and expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC allows students a choice to attend religious or private schools instead of their local public school district. Companies who donate to the “scholarship funds” see as much as 90% of their contributions come back from the state in the form of a tax credit. Tax credits available to businesses that give to the program went from a previous $75 million to $100 million. The legislation also created an EITC 2.0 program, which made an additional $50 million in business tax credits available for “opportunity scholarships.” Those funds allow children attending the lowest achieving 15% of public schools to switch to other educational institutions.

“The perception is he could have run this bill a long time before now” said Democratic House Candidate Bob Williams, who is running against Christiana in the 15th Legislative District. “But he waited until the funds were presented to him and then ran with the bill. Would he have run it without the money or was the money the real influence?”

“I’ve been a supporter of school choice initiatives for a long time, and organizations who also want to see reforms have begun to support me” said Representative Jim Christiana in an interview with the Beaver Countian. “In the past my opponents have benefited from large sums they received from the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which is the state’s largest teacher’s union. I don’t receive donations from the PSEA, but I continue to work with them and continue to compromise for the benefit of our public school system [...] Some people may be opposed to my efforts because I’m willing to hold schools accountable if they under-perform.”

The $50,000 in total campaign contributions makes Christiana one of the single largest recipients of donations from school choice groups in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. But it’s another $120,000 in donations made to a mysterious new political action committee (PAC) which is raising questions.

On the same days the Students First and Fighting Chance PACs made their $25,000 donations to Christiana, they made additional contributions of $60,000 each to a newly formed political action committee dubbed “Commonsense 4 The Commonwealth.”

The Pennsylvania Department of State doesn’t show a registered PAC with the name “Commonsense 4 The Commonwealth”, but further searching did reveal a similarly named group “Commonsense For The Commonwealth.” That PAC is registered to an address in Harrisburg. But financial disclosure forms show the combined $120,000 it received from Students First and Fighting Chance were both mailed to 592 A Third Street in Beaver — The same address as Representative Jim Christiana’s campaign headquarters.

“I’m aware of the organization, but I’m not affiliated with them” said Representative Christiana. “I don’t know what the mixup was or why the mixup happened. But I know the folks there and we got their checks to the correct address.”

Financial disclosure forms filed by Commonsense For The Commonwealth list a “Scott Welford” as the organization’s Treasurer. But further research by the Beaver Countian revealed the actual spelling of the Treasurer’s name is in fact “Scott Wolford.” Wolford is a long-time personal friend and political supporter of Jim Christiana who resides in Brighton Township, just minutes from Christiana’s campaign headquarters.

Records obtained from the Beaver County Bureau of Elections show Scott Wolford and his wife Amy have donated thousands to Christiana’s campaign committee through the years, and sources say the couple has organized fundraisers which helped the candidate raise thousands more.

When asked about his relationship with Scott Wolford, Christiana acknowledged strong ties. “Scott is a supporter of mine and I’m thankful to have him as a friend” he said. “But he doesn’t work for me, he’s [Commonsense For The Commonwealth's] local treasurer who helps balance the books and I’m sure he’ll do fine working with that PAC.”

Commonsense for the Commonwealth has begun making some payments to other Republican candidates, including a $5,000 donation to Kathleen Coder’s campaign (Coder is running against Democratic State Representative Rob Matzie for the 16th Legislative District). But the organization has yet to spend a vast majority of the funding it received from Students Choice and Fighting Chance.

“I should also mention that I’ve never received any campaign contributions from Commonsense For The Commonwealth” said Representative Jim Christiana. “Despite all of the questions, I’ve never seen a dollar.”

Scott Wolford could not be reached for comment. A message left with Kathleen Coder’s campaign was not returned.

Commonsense For The Commonwealth PAC Digital Registration:

From the Pennsylvania Department of State

Financial Reports Filed By The “Students First” PAC:

From the Pennsylvania Department of State

Financial Reports Filed By The “Fighting Chance PA” PAC:

From the Pennsylvania Department of State

 

10 comments

  1. Party aside, they all do this. Until there are funds available for what ever reason none of them move on the bills. It would be nice if that was not the case but it is. Cyber and religious schools are fighting the establishment which due to the unions that give their money to the Dems, have to fight and scratch their way into existence. We need to be able to send our kids where we want and have our tax dollars go with them.

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  2. Why would a cyber school need to buy all that property?

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  3. little jimmy got caught with his hand in the cookie jar LOL

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  4. They buy property and friends in the legislature apparently…….

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  5. Car salesman turned politician

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  6. One doesn’t have to look very far to see where Jim Christiana’s loyalties lie, and they are NOT with the citizens, let alone the teachers. I was on a school board for almost 8 years and I can think of a lot of words for public school teachers. Caring, attentive, extremely qualified. I would never refer to them as thugs like Jim Christiana did on his Facebook page in his response to another writer as it pertains to school choice. See Below:

    Frank Catalano Rep. Christina, if this program makes it through to law, make sure that the union thugs do not penetrate the new schools.
    Yesterday at 10:34am · Like

    PA State Rep. Jim Christiana The program was passed into law with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was not what I originally introduced in 2011 but it still will be a successful program that saves a lot of kids. I hear your message frank loud and clear. Thanks for being involved in the process

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  7. And the beat goes on!!!!! Just in another place!

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  8. One thing I cannot understand is how state funds can be used to send a student to a “religious” institution, ie catholic schools? Isn’t there something called a constitution that reinforces the thought of separation of church and state. I wonder what will happen when there becomes a muslim school and kids apply to go there and folks find out about that?

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  9. Michael Kenney

    Dan S.- Sadly, many conservatives have very selective memory when it comes to the Constitution. Those who think public money should support schools with a religious agenda choose not to recognize the separation of church and state required by the Constitution. Because they seem to favor religion more than democracy, they see any restrictions on religion as unfounded. It’s a way of thinking that threatens democracy, much the way that Islamic fundamentalism threatens it. “Your belief in God/Allah is mistaken and mine is right; therefore, I’m justified in doing whatever I want to promote my belief and you have no rights to promote yours.” When you add the relentless effort by the Right to discredit public schools and teachers, it shouldn’t be surprising that a Republican like Christiana would support this. Not surprising, but a threat to democracy just the same. The conservative/religious movement has created a sense of persecution among its followers, claiming a “war on Christmas”, etc., when actually these conflicts are part of a democratic society, developing as a result of more people wanting to benefit from civil and political rights. These conservatives drive the country further to the Right while spreading fear of anyone who is different from them.

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